Photo: State Department
This week, Secretary of State John Kerry is gathering world leaders in Washington, D.C., for a major conference on protecting the oceans. Included on the program are key issues such as ocean pollution, sustainable fishing and protection of marine parks.
This is a strong biodiversity and conservation agenda, but notably absent is how these traditional environmental challenges are a threat to U.S. and global security. Illegal fishing — one of the most important drivers of ecological catastrophe — has become inextricably linked with a variety of illicit behaviors, including transnational organized crime. By themselves, conservationists do not have the resources and experience to take on these challenges. If they want to make genuine progress on the issues they’re grappling with this week, world environmental leaders must think more broadly about the causes and possible solutions to the problems they’re trying to rein in — and that means reaching out to the security community to directly address these threats.
Environmental issues are linked to what we think of as “security” threats in three important ways. First, fishing vessels themselves are often directly connected to transnational organized crime, such as trafficking of drugs, arms and persons. For example, fishing vessels are implicated in the trafficking of cocaine from Latin America to the U.S. In the Mediterranean, Hamas uses fishermen to smuggle arms into Gaza. In March, the Royal Australian Navy intercepted a fishing vessel off the coast of Oman with approximately $2 million worth of arms hidden under fishing nets. It was believed that the “catch” — seized under authorities mandated by a U.N. arms embargo against Somalia where Al Shabaab is located — originated from Iran.