Joint surveillance mission in Sierra Leone uncovers illegal fishing operations


Four illegal fishing cases have been found during a joint surveillance mission conducted by Greenpeace and Sierra Leone fishery authorities.

Two Chinese and a Korean vessel were impounded for infringements of Sierra Leone fishing legislation, including possessing or using illegal fishing nets, no visible markings and a lack of required paperwork, including logbooks and authorisation for unloading catch.

Fishing authorities ordered the vessels to return to Freetown port for further investigation. A fourth vessel, owned by an Italian company, was found with shark fin on board. Though not illegal under Sierra Leone law, this is a violation of European Union (EU) fishing rules. This boat’s case will be taken further with relevant EU authorities Greenpeace said.

In addition, more than 70 bags of shark carcasses were found on one Chinese vessel.

Greenpeace and Sierra Leonean authorities inspected and boarded seven vessels during a four day joint surveillance in Sierra Leonean territorial waters. They included three Chinese vessels, two EU vessels, a Korean and one Senegalese vessel with Korean investment. More than half of the inspected vessels are suspected of illegal fishing activity.

Ahmed Diame, Greenpeace Africa Oceans campaigner, said: “The findings from just four days of surveillance in Sierra Leone are further evidence West Africa needs to strengthen fisheries management. The region’s marine resources are being depleted at alarming rates, mainly due to too many boats competing for too few fish and high rates of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. This ongoing plunder is a threat to millions in the region who depend on the oceans for their food.”

Currently, 140 vessels are licenced to operate in Sierra Leonean waters, including tuna purse seiners, demersal and shrimp and mid-water trawlers targeting pelagic fish like sardinella and mackerel. Nearly half the vessels in the country’s waters are owned by Chinese companies and 40% by European Union companies.

Pan Wenjing, Greenpeace East Asia oceans campaigner, said: “From talking to Chinese captains during inspections, it is evident they have a limited understanding of local fisheries legislation. Given that almost half of the foreign fishing vessels in Sierra Leone are Chinese, this is a major concern. These vessels need stricter supervision. In addition, Chinese fishing companies need to supply training on local legislation to all overseas staff.”

Nearly a million of Sierra Leone’s seven million population of depend on fish as a main part of both income and diet. Overfishing and illegal fishing are a direct threat to food security and livelihoods.

Greenpeace is demanding a stronger fisheries management to help end to overfishing and illegal fishing in West Africa. Governments of coastal states and fishing nations must take more responsibility and work together to manage both foreign and local fishing activities and ensure environmentally sustainable and socially equitable distribution of these resources the environmental NGO said.