Illegal fishing and fisheries crime as a transnational organized crime in Indonesia


Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is increasingly drawing international attention and coastal states strengthen their efforts to address it as a matter of priority due to its severe implications for food, economic, environmental and social security. As the largest archipelagic country in the world, this is especially problematic for Indonesia. In this already complex geographical and security environment, the authors test the hypothesis that IUU fishing and fisheries crime(s) classify as transnational organized criminal activities. The article argues that IUU fishing is much more than simply a fisheries management issue, since it goes hand in hand with fisheries crime. As a result, although the two concepts are quite distinct, they are so closely interlinked and interrelated throughout the entire value chain of marine fisheries, that they can only be managed effectively collectively by understanding them both within the framework of transnational organized crime. To make this argument, the research utilizes qualitative and quantitative data collected from approximately two thousand trafficked fishers, rescued in 2015 from slavery conditions while stranded in two remote Indonesian locations: Benjina on Aru island and on Ambon island. The article’s findings also unveil new trends relating to the inner workings of the illegal fishing industry, in four different, yet interlinked categories: recruitment patterns and target groups; document forgery; forced labor and abuse; and fisheries violations. The paper concludes by confirming the hypothesis and highlights that IUU fishing provides the ideal (illegal) environment for fisheries crimes and other forms of transnational organized crimes to flourish.

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(Source: US NIC 2016:6)

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  1. 1.

    The United Nations’ Secretary General report to the General Assembly of the United Nations, under the title ‘Oceans and the Law of the Sea’ identified seven specific threats to maritime security: piracy and armed robbery at sea; terrorist acts involving shipping; offshore installations and other maritime interests; illicit trafficking in arms and weapons of mass destruction; illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances; smuggling and trafficking of persons by sea; illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and intentional and unlawful damage to the marine environment.

  2. 2.

    Regional management organisations or arrangements (RFMO/As) exist in the majority of high seas areas that have major deep-sea fisheries. They are usually tasked with collecting fisheries statistics, assessing resources, making management decisions and monitoring activities. For further details, see

  3. 3.

    According to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime:

    - [A]n organized crime group is a “structured group of three or more persons existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.”

    - [A]n offence is transnational if “(a) It is committed in more than one state; (b) It is committed in one state but a substantial part of its preparation, planning, direction or control takes place in another state; (c) It is committed in one state but involves an organized criminal group that engages in criminal activities in more than one state; or (d) It is committed in one state but has substantial effects in another state” (United Nations Centre for International Crime Prevention (2000) Assessing Transnational Organized Crime: Results of a Pilot Survey of 40 Selected Organized Criminal Groups in 16 Countries, Trends in Organized Crime, 6(2): 48–49).


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The authors wish to put on record our thanks to the Editor of ‘Trends in Organized Crime’, the anonymous reviewers and our colleagues Dr Pete Munro, Dr James Malcolm and Ms Laura Payne for their input, feedback and comments on the article, as well as to Jessica Aitken for her professional proofreading services. Collectively they have helped to significantly improve its focus.

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Correspondence to Ioannis Chapsos.

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Chapsos, I., Hamilton, S. Illegal fishing and fisheries crime as a transnational organized crime in Indonesia. Trends Organ Crim 22, 255–273 (2019).

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  • Maritime security
  • Illegal fishing
  • Fisheries crime
  • Transnational organized crime
  • Human trafficking
  • Labor exploitation
  • Indonesia