TNRC Blog - Traceability, Technology, and Transformation: WWF’s activities reducing fisheries corruption in the Americas

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Targeting Natural Resource Corruption

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Traceability, Technology, and Transformation: WWF’s Activities Reducing Fisheries Corruption in the Americas


Corruption impedes fisheries conservation through many mechanisms. Corruption within fishing vessel licensing systems, most notably bribery, enables vessels to fish in ways that are often illegal and usually unsustainable. Forgery and misreporting of fish catch – such as reporting inaccurate tonnage or misidentifying species – undermines management planning and stock assessments. And criminal behavior in the fisheries sector, such as the violation of human or labor rights, smuggling of illicit goods, or illegal wildlife trafficking, is facilitated by lax enforcement and poor monitoring. Reducing corruption is therefore a critical part of enacting robust and effective fisheries management and conservation and, ultimately, of supporting ocean health.

WWF is engaging in a wide range of anti-corruption activities throughout the Americas in order to strengthen our conservation programming and support a healthy and thriving ocean environment. Last year, five WWF offices, Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC), and TNRC partner the Basel Institute on Governance held an in-person learning exchange in Quito, Ecuador, focusing on these activities. This blog captures high-level key points from that exchange.

Traceability

Traceability systems have significant potential to reduce corruption risks in fisheries supply chains, by making it more difficult to launder illegally caught fish into legal supply chains. However, “the efficacy of traceability systems as anti-crime/corruption tools will always be conditional upon the will and capacity of authorities to act on the information the systems provide.” Two additional limitations are at the very first stage of the supply chain (catch), and a lack of systems integration or interoperability. For the former, if the initial catch is illegal but has fraudulent catch documentation to appear legitimate, then that product may be perfectly traced from ocean to plate without the underlying conservation crime being recognized and addressed. For the latter, if one country’s system does not communicate efficiently with market actors, another country’s system, or that of the ultimate export market, corrupt actors can take advantage of those data exchange breakdowns and breaches.

Several initiatives in the region are addressing these very limitations. WWF programs in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador all have ongoing activities with their governments to improve will and capacity to act on information from traceability and other electronic monitoring of the fisheries sector. Improving digitization and traceability at the harvest level is a priority area for WWF US’s support in the region. WWF US is also exploring ways to integrate national traceability systems in key producer regions such as Chile, Peru, and Ecuador, to work towards intergovernmental system interoperability.

Technology

Many of WWF’s fisheries anti-corruption activities in the region leverage technology, in recognition of tech’s potential for undergirding traceability, facilitating accountability, and avoiding unnecessary bureaucratic interactions that create corruption opportunities.

For example, WWF Peru’s “TrazApp” is an understandable, simple app that tracks seafood along its supply chain. Through one TNRC anti-corruption pilot, the team adapted TrazApp to close corruption opportunities in one key step in the fisheries supply chain—departure certificates —with laudable success. Through a follow-on activity, they further scaled the app to catch certificates and are continuing to build towards additional scale-up and rollout.

Similarly, Fundación Vida Silvestre (FVS), the WWF-associated organization in Argentina, piloted an e-logbook for vessels, learning from WWF Chile’s experience. FVS secured key buy-in for the system and launched it as one initial step towards a fully realized electronic fisheries information system in the country. Their work is continuing, as they update the e-logbook for additional fisheries, analyze the fish supply chain for traceability entry points, and continue to advocate for a national traceability law in Argentina.

Transformation

In addition to these profound achievements and ongoing work, several WWF offices have other activities with real potential to transform their fisheries sectors. Most concretely, two WWF offices have assessed corruption risks in specific fisheries in their countries and held major workshops with government and sector stakeholders to discuss the results.

WWF Peru presented their assessment in February 2023, facilitating impactful dialogue between fisher associations, industry, civil society, academy and the government on where policies may be lacking, where corruption potentially undermines good management, and where divergent stakeholder interests could be leading to conflict and distrust. They also collaborated with TNRC to convert their methodology into guidance, further amplifying the team’s impact when WWF Mexico applied the method to their context.

WWF Ecuador held a public ceremony to share their assessment results and for various agencies to commit to the reforms identified. The commitments on the part of government agencies, civil society organizations, and fishing cooperatives span transformational topics from corruption reporting mechanisms and ethics reforms to procedural transparency and streamlining. Additionally, WWF US and WWF Ecuador have partnered with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to leverage their respective strengths in marine conservation and in maritime security and evidence collection. This partnership aims to integrate technology, scientific assessment, and capacity building for maritime enforcement operations to achieve the best protection for Ecuador’s iconic and valuable ocean ecosystem. Such partnerships are critical for systems-level change, at multiple entry points, to truly transform fisheries into productive and protected systems.

The path forward

These teams are hard at work continuing, finalizing, and adapting their activities to continue pushing for corruption-free, effective, equitable fisheries management in the Western Hemisphere. WWF Peru is wrapping up their efforts to launch a chatbot via WhatsApp to better connect fishers with public and official information on legal and technical issues in the fisheries sector. The Latin American Wildlife Crime Hub is developing a regional shark strategy that they hope to launch in the coming months. Finally, the larger nature-positive seascape strategy for Ecuador, launched by the WWF-US Oceans and WWF Ecuador teams, will incorporate these initiatives in their efforts.

At a global level, the WWF-US Oceans team is taking a 30,000-foot view of how corruption and illegality in fisheries contributes to broader instability, food insecurity, and conflict. The Oceans Futures initiative was launched at the end of 2023, and its goal is to provide a data-driven global platform for identifying hotspots of illegal fishing and fisheries conflict. This effort rests on the assumption that early warning about the impacts of climate change on fish populations will spur policy makers and resource managers into action. Oceans Futures will provide predictive information about future hotspots of fisheries collapses and blue food insecurity, which should allow stakeholders to prioritize where resources should flow, where alternative livelihoods to fisheries should be supported, and where conservation matters should be accelerated.


 
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Image attribution: © naturepl.com / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus