The world’s first Sustainable Blue Economy Conference was hosted by Kenya 26-28 November 2018. The event, co-hosted by Canada and Japan, attracted over 18,000 delegates from 184 countries whereby participants discussed and committed to the responsible development of marine and inland water resources to deliver economic growth. As expectations of blue growth develop, concern over criminal activity in the maritime domain increases with illegal fishing, piracy, and trafficking of people, arms, wildlife and drugs seen to pose the most substantial threats.

Kenya has taken considerable steps to counter illegality at sea with the launch of the Kenya Coast Guard in November 2018. President Uhuru Kenyatta said the Coast Guard service would oversee the protection of Kenya’s’ waters against dumping of harmful wastes and pollutants, search and rescue services, and the arrest of illegal fishermen, which will help increase efficiency in protection of maritime resources. The Coast Guard is expected to mitigate the risks of transnational organized crime through increased trans-border intelligence and information sharing.  “It will enforce security, safety, and protection of Kenya’s maritime resources,” stated President Kenyatta. The Council of the Kenyan Coast Guard service will provide overall policy leadership, coordination of partner departments, and approval of budget and commissioning of operations. The Technical Committee will be responsible for day-to-day management and administration of the service.

The effectiveness of at-sea patrols has recently been seen in Tanzania, where the Government of Tanzania, in cooperation with Sea Shepherd Global and with support from FISH-i, has undertaken ‘Operation Jodari’, enabling Tanzania to conduct at-sea patrols forthe first time since independence. Human rights abuses, illegal shark finning and fisheries violations were all uncovered during operations, and led to all industrial fishing vessels leaving Tanzanian waters to avoid required post-fishing inspections.

The Sustainable Blue Economy Conference provided an opportunity to showcase the challenges and success in fighting the illegal fishing that is taking place in the Western Indian Ocean. As one of the founding members of FISH-i Africa, Kenya has been a key partner to an innovative cooperation, created through the dedication of on-the-ground enforcement officers who have consistently sought to find solutions to seemingly intractable issues. Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Fisheries and the Blue Economy stated, “As a founding member, Kenya has benefitted enormously from our participation in the Fish-i Africa Task Force. We are able to easily communicate and cooperate with our fellow member States in the region, and call on important technical support in our efforts to fight IUU fishing.”

Given limited regional enforcement and patrol capacity, FISH-i has focused its support on identifying illegal fishing with the use of satellite tracking data and due diligence in licensing and flagging fishing vessels, and in relation to vessels using the region’s ports. This approach has led to considerable success in identifying those vessels and operators who are not only fishing illegally but who are also committing related crimes through e.g. document forgery, vessel identity fraud, corruption and human trafficking. Through the analysis of over 40 investigations conducted by FISH-i, deliberate non-compliance has been identified as a significant issue within the Western Indian Ocean.

Discussing the changing face and global implications of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, as part of a side-event titled ‘The role of sustainable fisheries andaquaculture in ending hunger and securing food supply to promote good health and create wealth,’ Per Erik Bergh, representing Stop Illegal Fishing and the FISH-i Africa Task Force, stated: “FISH-i has shone a light on the systematic criminal nature of much of the illegal fishing taking place in the Western Indian Ocean. Not only is this activity stealing the food from our plates and the money from our pockets, it is undermining the governance of African countries, and their maritime domains. We will not see sustainable blue growth until this illegal activity is stopped.”

The outcomes of the conference were captured in the Nairobi Statement of Intenton Advancing the Global Sustainable Blue Economy.