Caviar trade changes all the time



Posted on 07 March 2014  | 
Grant Miller with elephant ivory bracelets and other ivory trinkets seized by UK Border Force.
Grant Miller with elephant ivory bracelets and other ivory trinkets seized by UK Border Force.
© WWF-UK/ James MorganEnlarge
Grant Miller is Head of the CITES unit, part of the UK’s Customs Authority, based at London’s Heathrow Airport. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Grant Miller took part in a WWF workshop in Bulgaria - supported through a LIFE+ project - with law enforcement officers from the region, lecturing about methods of halting the illegal trade in caviar from wild sturgeons. Bulgaria and Romania are the only countries in the European Union which still have viable populations of wild sturgeons. Interview by WWF’s Ekaterina Voynova.

Could you tell me about your work and the work of your unit?
It’s a team that has existed for 25 years now. We set up when some customs officers went out to examine a consignment from South America. They were expecting to find cocaine but found a consignment of poison arrow frogs. As a result of the potential near death of an officer, management made the decision to make a dedicated team to look at wildlife smuggling.

And, 25 years on, we are six higher officers and work operationally as a national resource. We also have a dedicated intelligence officer working in the team. We provide an on-call service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to all the border-cross officers in the UK so that if we encounter smuggled wildlife or derivatives whether it be animal or plants, we can respond and conduct an investigation.

What is your experience in controlling the caviar trade?
Caviar trade changes all the time. The United Kingdom is a country of demand, and we have a high level of consumption. We looked at those who imported it, we looked at those who repackaged it and we looked at those who sold it, in conjunction with our partners from the national wildlife crime police unit and the animal health licensing authority.

What we did is we looked at how caviar was supplied, how it was trafficked and we understood. We started to make clear what the legitimate trade was so that we can concentrate all our efforts on those who were not doing it properly. And that has proved very beneficial.

What’s changed now is we started to see caviar in beauty and health products, it is not just imported to eat. It's coming in face and hand creams. But we're also seeing quantities coming in on private aircraft, so rich and influential people are smuggling caviar into the United Kingdom. And the border force is there to stop them from doing it.

Can you give examples for cooperation within the UK with investigating wildlife crimes?
We work very closely with the national wildlife crime unit, which is a dedicated intelligence unit. If customs are working on a case and we have to go on and raid a premise, we'll always take a police officer with us. Similarly, they'll always bring a customs officer.

That's how we can make sure we can use our strongest legal powers against the individual offences that are committed. We share information regularly and we work collectively on cases.

What do you think Bulgaria and Romania can learn from the UK?
We learn both ways. In the UK our openness, our honesty, our transparency when dealing across law enforcement, is something that can be championed. Police, customs, licensing authorities talk to each other.

What the UK can learn from the Bulgarian people are some fantastic bits of intelligence that we learned today that will actually inform us. It's not about other countries telling you how to do it, it's about how to find a solution and try to make the situation better.

Do you currently have any channels to exchange that kind of information?
We use Interpol, we do share internationally wildlife information, specific intelligence, nominal information. We also have EU-TWIX which allows us to share non-nominal information and the UK is very engaged with that as are our European partners.

In your opinion, do you see law enforcement getting ahead of illegal trade, especially in caviar?
Law enforcement has to be given the support of government. The government has to send the clear message to the British population and to its law enforcement community that wildlife crime IS a crime. The people who are perpetrating this crime are doing it for profit. They are committing crime. When it comes to caviar quite clearly revenues are being lost to government because of this illegal activity. We need to bring the most modern policing and customs techniques and stop hiding behind the word "wildlife". It is organized criminality and it needs to be tackled with the highest level of government support.
Grant Miller with elephant ivory bracelets and other ivory trinkets seized by UK Border Force.
Grant Miller with elephant ivory bracelets and other ivory trinkets seized by UK Border Force.
© WWF-UK/ James Morgan Enlarge
Caviar – the processed, salted roe of certain fish species, most notably sturgeon – is commercially marketed worldwide as a delicacy.
© WWF-Canon / Emma Duncan Enlarge

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