On 15 and 16 June 2023, the Regional Plan of Action to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (RPOA-IUU) and the ATSEA-2 Project organised a hybrid Focus Group Discussion (FGD) on fisheries intelligence. The FGD brought together representatives from seven RPOA-IUU-participating countries: Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Timor-Leste. It served as a follow-up to the previous fisheries intelligence training, conducted in April 2022, when a recommendation to explore the establishment of a Fisheries Intelligence Network (FIN) by the participating countries was put forward. 

The primary objective of the most recent FGD was to facilitate knowledge sharing among the participating nations regarding the acquisition and management of fisheries information and intelligence. Furthermore, the attendees had a valuable opportunity to learn from esteemed experts hailing from renowned institutions like INTERPOL, Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE). 

The FGD emphasised there is a clear distinction between information and intelligence. Jamie Tawara Bailey, the Criminal Intelligence Officer of INTERPOL, reiterated that intelligence is information plus analysis; information is openly available, while intelligence is not. Information is presented raw and as such it is not reliable or actionable until it has been properly assessed. Therefore, in-depth analysis is key to converting information into actionable intelligence based on broader context and an awareness of the overarching narrative, which can then form the basis for decision-making and law enforcement.

Discussion with between representatives of ATSEA-2 (right), Dustin de Gagne (top left) from Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans
and David Pearl (bottom left) from NOAA OLE

Dustin de Gagne, Senior Program Officer of Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans, emphasised the need for fisheries intelligence cooperation among neighbouring countries, in response to the many perpetrators of illegal, elaborate and industrial-scale fishing activities operating transnationally and across multiple jurisdictions. Each country and/or regional organisation should establish governance mechanisms tailored to their available resources, membership distribution, objectives and scope. Capacity-building activities to advance fisheries intelligence implementation should include business planning, specialised training (e.g., Open Source Intelligence, information-handling, etc.), quality control, security frameworks and partnerships.

David Pearl, Investigative Analyst of NOAA OLE, further underscored the importance of sharing fisheries intelligence and outlined the means to achieve it. He highlighted the significance of intelligence-sharing agreements, such as Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) and cooperative agreements between departments within countries (internal) or among countries (external). These agreements are expected to outline the parameters for sharing intelligence, including the parties involved, conditions and motivations. The process of establishing such agreements can involve specific agencies or partners who have the capability to facilitate sharing.

It was also observed that most RPOA-IUU countries already employ various technologies and systems to gather fisheries information, including Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), radar and remote sensing. Regardless, further work is needed to optimise these systems and deliver the requisite intelligence. Only Australia has already differentiated fisheries information and intelligence by having two separate units (known as the fisheries information and intelligence units). It was concluded that each of the countries are currently at different stages of utilising and implementing fisheries intelligence. 

Following the FGD, the RPOA-IUU Secretariat will facilitate another FGD to develop a strategic plan for fisheries intelligence for RPOA-IUU-participating countries, organise capacity-building activities through training and officer exchange, facilitate a gap analysis of intelligence implementation in every country, and establish a fisheries intelligence working group. ATSEA-2 will support the RPOA-IUU Secretariat by organising another training session on fisheries intelligence, to be held in August 2023.

By Casandra Tania