World Ocean Day (June 8th), is a global celebration of the vast, and largely unexplored, underwater world that makes up the majority of our planet. It’s also an annual opportunity to highlight the action needed to preserve the ocean’s extraordinary ecosystems, of which we still haven’t even scratched the surface of understanding.

In the spirit of World Oceans Day, the National Whistleblower Center’s (NWC) executive director, Stephen M. Kohn  presented a webinar, “Using U.S. Whistleblower Laws to Fight Illegal Fishing and Marine Pollution and Fund MPAs” on June 6, to discuss the impact whistleblowers have in protecting our oceans from oil pollution, and how whistleblower reward laws can be successfully applied to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF).

Kohn’s presentation provided an overview of whistleblower laws and resources relevant to marine practitioners, as well as wildlife and marine pollution whistleblowers.  The webinar was co-sponsored by the EBM Tools Network (co-coordinated by NatureServe and and MEAM.

Watch the recorded webinar now.

Whistleblowing Works: How Whistleblowers Are Empowered to Combat Ocean Pollution

Rewards for whistleblowers—people who provide information about violations of the law to the appropriate authorities—have been extremely successful when effectively implemented.  Whistleblower rewards incentivize insiders to report information, and support law enforcement’s ability to detect crime that they might not otherwise uncover.

According to the Ocean Project, the coordinators of World Ocean Day, two-thirds of ocean species are overfished. Approximately 90% of fish stocks of large predatory fish have already been decimated, as overfishing disproportionately targets the largest fish at the top of the food chain. The most recent example is the highly publicized extinction of the vaquita.

Illegal fishing is a major cause of our increasingly barren oceans, and similar to other types of wildlife crime, it is incredibly difficult for law enforcement to detect without the help of an insider. Thereby empowering and incentivizing potential whistleblowers offers a practical and proven solution. The proven effectiveness of reward laws is exemplified by U.S. enforcement of the MARPOL Protocol (MARPOL).

MARPOL, an international convention for eliminating oil pollution from ships, was signed by one hundred and thirty-six countries, including the United States in 1990. It covers 98% of the world’s shipping tonnage, and every signatory is required to enact domestic laws to implement the treaty and enforce compliance. In the United States, the legislation implementing MARPOL is known as the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), and the U.S. is the leading country in enforcement. Its success is due to whistleblower rewards– a powerful incentive for crew members witnessing ships polluting the ocean, to report violations confidentially and receive monetary rewards.

There have been over 70 whistleblower cases dealing with marine pollution under APPS in recent years – generally involving situation in which ships have illegally dumped oil somewhere in the world in violation of MARPOL. Some of these cases have resulted in rewards of more than US $1 million to the whistleblowers under APPS’s whistleblower reward provision—which allows informants to receive up to 50% of the collected proceeds from a successful prosecution.

The Department of Justice has readily acknowledged, “Information of this nature is otherwise difficult, if not virtually impossible to obtain [without help from the whistleblower] …The availability of the APPS award aptly reflects the realities of life at sea.”

The success of the reward provisions in APPS demonstrate the potential of a wildlife whistleblower program. Both APPS and the wildlife protection laws (such as the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act) target crimes that occur in clandestine spaces and often involve non-U.S. citizen whistleblowers.

Urge the Government to Take Action to Protect Marine Ecosystems

Overfishing and ocean pollution are devastating the ocean environment, threatening the primary food source and livelihood of millions of people. In addition to employing APPS, the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) is working to utilize whistleblower provisions in laws aimed at protecting marine wildlife, such as the Endangered Species Act, Lacey Act, and Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act, to combat the catch, sale, and transport of protected species and fishing conducted in no-fishing areas. These laws contain underutilized reward provisions with great potential for improving detection and enforcement–but for the past 30 years they have not been implemented.

The NWC launched the Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program to raise awareness of whistleblower reward provisions and provide assistance—including a safe, worldwide reporting system—to wildlife whistleblowers. Join NWC’s call on the U.S. government to step up their efforts to protect our planet’s oceans and wildlife:  Request that the responsible government agencies implement the U.S. wildlife protection law reward provisions by establishing a wildlife crime whistleblower program.