TNRC Mexico Case Study

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Targeting Natural Resource Corruption

Harnessing knowledge, generating evidence, and supporting innovative policy and practice for more effective anti-corruption programming


Vulnerabilities in Fisheries in Mexico: A Challenge for Sustainability

In 2023, the Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC) project supported a small number of activities that incorporated the lessons of the first pilot projects and advanced their themes. WWF Mexico conducted a corruption risk analysis of one fishery to understand the type and frequency of irregular activities and identify recommendations to address them. This case study documents lessons from their work.

In Mexico's fishing ports, one hears stories of “irregularities,” lack of oversight, and discrepancies in the registration of vessels. There are scarce resources for research and technologies to improve the management of the country's fisheries. Transparency is lacking, and irregularities span fisheries supply chains, manifesting in multiple ways and at various levels.

Fishing is a vital activity in Mexico, providing food and livelihoods to thousands of people in coastal communities. But the sustainability of that food and those livelihoods cannot be guaranteed without proper fishery management, and proper fishery management is not possible with high levels of corruption.

Addressing the problems of corruption and the lack of transparency is therefore crucial to ensure the health of the oceans, the livelihoods of fishing communities, and the fair distribution of resources. However, corruption is a complex phenomenon to study; corruption does not necessarily come to light in an initial approach to actors involved in a system that can be subject to innumerable illegal practices.

WWF Mexico investigated some specific stages and nodes of the production chain of the red snapper fishery in the Mexican Central Pacific. The objective was to identify the vulnerabilities (including corruption) in this fishery, to understand and assess the impact of irregular and illegal activities, and to present recommendations to mitigate the risks.

Methodology: From Desk to Dock

Informed by the experiences of WWF Peru and WWF Ecuador, WWF Mexico and implementing partner organization HUMINT used a methodology combining an in-office analysis with field research.

During the first phase, the team described the stages in the supply chain, from preparation to sale. To begin identifying opportunities or risks for corruption for each stage of the chain, the team started by identifying points of contact with authorities, along with the necessary procedures and their time and cost requirements. The team also analyzed press releases and official documents for incidents of corruption related to public officials and supply chain actors. In the second phase, the team interviewed key actors in the fishery to clarify risks, and then held workshops with key stakeholders in the fishery to obtain more complete data.

Identified Risks and Vulnerabilities

For this research, "corrupt practices" were defined as pressuring, coercing, or conditioning services and attention in exchange for some kind of monetary or in-kind payment. More common examples are bribes ("mordidas” or “bites" as the colloquial term in Mexico) and extortion (the act of demanding a bribe to provide a service). Influence peddling and "omission" were also considered to be corruption. Influence peddling involves taking advantage of personal or political connections so that an authority favors an ally or "client" who pays the peddler. Omission, in this context, is the deliberate negligence of a public agency to carry out its duties. Omission "diverts" public resources such as wages for work not done.

In the snapper fishery in the Mexican Central Pacific, the results indicated greater risk and vulnerability in the preparation and capture stages. These are the hotspots where fishers must carry out the most procedures and interact with the bureaucracy of various government institutions, which generates risks of corrupt practices. There are also risks of corruption of "omission" at the landing stage.

Identified Facilitators of Corrupt Conduct

Several factors facilitate corruption in Mexico's fisheries supply chains.

  1. Complex or unclear bureaucratic processes: The presence of confusing regulations, duplicate requirements, loopholes, and manual procedures. This creates opportunities for discretion, extortion, and omission of responsibilities on the part of officials.
  2. Weak accountability mechanisms and lack of information: The lack of transparency and the difficulty in holding authorities accountable for their decisions. Data on catches and penalties are not publicly available and information on permits and concessions are not linked to technical fisheries management decisions. This limits external pressure for sustainability and the ability to identify decisions made against the public interest.
  3. Normalization of corruption and illicit conduct: Corruption has become common in the fishing sector, and fishers may be willing to engage in corrupt practices due to the perception that it is the norm. In addition, fishers participate in corruption without complaints, and even internalize it as part of their operating costs to avoid obstacles to their activities.
  4. Institutional weaknesses: Lack of resources and technology, as well as a reduction in the budget for inspection and surveillance operations. The former facilitates document fraud, as it means that many processes are manual. The latter limits the ability of authorities to prevent and punish unlawful acts.
  5. Impunity: The lack of effective sanctions for corrupt acts. An inefficient and delayed sanctioning process will not have a deterrent effect against future corrupt acts.

Opportunities to Strengthen Fisheries Management in Mexico

Making governance improvements in Mexico's fisheries supply chain is not a simple task, although some of the necessary improvements may seem obvious or already addressed. A significant change will require:

  1. More effective monitoring and control mechanisms, at every stage of the supply chain, but especially in terms of arrival catch weighing, vessel registration, and permit numbers.
  2. Administrative and transparency improvements in the procedure for arrival declarations, starting with opting for declarations of arrival by vessel instead of collectively.
  3. An updated regulation at ports of arrival to develop a system that allows for real-time monitoring of landing data and accountability in case of irregularities.
  4. Better knowledge of fisheries issues and judicial processes on the part of public prosecutors and courts for a better prosecution of crimes related to illegal fishing and corruption.
  5. The implementation of transparency and control technologies such as on-board cameras, drones, and control systems at ports of arrival.
  6. The creation of fisheries management committees to discuss management measures and generate efficient communication channels between actors: cooperatives, permit holders, and authorities.
  7. Legislative reforms to improve fisheries inspection and surveillance and coordination between fisheries-related agencies.

    And, most importantly:

  8. Training for fishers with efforts to address demoralization in the sector; building their confidence in a more sustainable future, and implementing initiatives that promote a culture of integrity and sustainability, will facilitate their adoption of proper completion of arrival declarations, good fishing practices, and anti-corruption commitments.

Lessons Learned and Future Lines of Work

The entrenchment of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices is very deep and complex. Delving deeply into the phenomenon of corruption and generating systemic solutions also takes many years. The problem has to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, which involves the investment of time, financial resources, and substantial efforts. The solutions are not immediately applicable and require long-term commitment.

Despite all this, this basic desk and field study provided a regional snapshot that allowed us to document patterns of IUU fishing and corruption and to lay out some recommendations. The patterns identified in this study can serve as entry points for comparisons with other regions of the country, which are essential to properly contextualize the problem and design the solutions at scale that some of these challenges require.

Instead of focusing exclusively on securitized approaches to IUU fishing, creative solutions should be sought that make the illegal market less attractive to fishers. To this end, it is crucial to evaluate the competencies and knowledge of fisheries authorities to assess their ability to perform their functions in an effective and coordinated manner. An accurate estimate of the cost of corruption and its impact on the growth of IUU fishing would also be useful, separating these effects from other factors such as poor procedures or capacity. Finally, for doing this type of research, a strong local presence is a key element in building trust among all the actors involved. WWF Mexico intends to take these points forward to future work.

Understanding vulnerabilities in Mexico's fisheries supply chains is essential to protect the marine environment, maintain economic stability, ensure food security, comply with international regulations, promote social cohesion, and reduce the influence of organized crime. Collective action involving governments, civil society organizations, fishing communities and the private sector is required. Transparency, accountability, and public awareness are key tools in this process.

These efforts not only benefit Mexico, but also contribute to the global and equitable sustainability of fisheries resources for all involved in this crucial activity.

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