Protecting fishing part of maritime security

Meeting with Ghanaian fishermen and West African navy personnel, US Africa Command’s civilian deputy, Ambassador Mary C. Yates, stressed that maritime security includes protecting fishing grounds and building partnerships between militaries and civil authorities.
This partnership, she said, can to counter a host of illegal activities, including unregulated fishing and drug trafficking.
Africom`s website this week reports Yates visited Ghana’s coastal cities of Takoradi and Sekondi earlier this month during a West Africa trip. At the request of the US Embassy in

Ghana, she met with elders at the Takoradi fishing village to discuss the problems they face as they try to compete with foreign fishing vessels that enter their waters and harvest enormous volumes of fish.
“These large ships are obstructing our way of life,” Nana Ekow Akon, chief of the Takoradi fishing community, told Yates through his interpreter. “The fishing trawlers come from other countries. Their large nets sweep away all the catch, leaving nothing for local fisherman.”

Nana Akon said his fishermen take digital photos of the illegal industrial fishing, and use their cell phones to try to report illegal activities, but they have little success in getting authorities to intervene.
Fishing concerns

Compounding the problem, new oil platforms off the coast are changing fish population patterns. Even legal fishing by industrial ships can take place on such a large scale that it depletes local catches.

The majority of Ghanaians live near the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, and fish are a major part of the Ghanaian diet. International maritime laws regulate the fishing in national and international waters, and Ghanaian laws further regulate coast waters for the protection of local fishing communities. However, many nations such as Ghana lack adequate maritime resources to enforce

Yates, meeting with African naval personnel and local reporters, said fishing stocks represent a significant natural resource for African coastal communities. She also noted that protecting fish resources requires international cooperation as well as coordination between different government offices and ministries.
“The focus of the trip is to look at the illegal trafficking, the illicit trafficking in people, in narcotics, also the illegal fishing,” Yates told an international crew aboard the USS Nashville during her March 2 visit to coastal Ghana.

Local journalists said leaders from the fishing community are reluctant to approach the Ghanaian navy base for assistance with their fishing concerns because of distrust between the civilian community and navy personnel.
Yates said the US Africa Command is working to promote the professionalism of Ghana’s military, which is a major contributor to international peacekeeping, and asked journalists to help build bridges of understanding between the local navy base and the fishing communities.
During her visit, Yates emphasized the following points:
·         Illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries are a global problem, requiring international cooperation to halt this theft of natural resources.
·         Properly managed, fishing is a major renewable resource that feeds people and provides billions of dollars of income. Theft or unregulated fishing can deplete stocks, destroying resources for future generations.
·         Causes of illegal or unregulated fishing include: economic incentives, excess fleet capacity, as well as lack of management and ineffective monitoring.
·         Counter-narcotics, illegal fishing and illegal maritime trafficking are areas of emphasis for U.S. relations in West Africa.
Civil-military nexus
“Fisheries are not a core competency of the US Naval Forces Africa or US Africa Command,” said Lieutenant Commander Mike Baker, a West Africa desk officer with Africa Command’s Engagement Division.
“However, fisheries tie very closely to our main efforts of developing partner capacity in maritime safety and security, and supporting maritime sector development,” Baker said. “Fisheries are a ‘cross-over’ topic, in that fishing fleets sometimes are involved in narcotics trafficking.”
Many of the techniques to counter illegal fishing can also be used to counter other maritime challenges, Baker said. In addition, most African navies function as Coast Guards are coastal patrols, and their key mandates include protection of natural resources.

For this reason, the US Coast Guard has been working alongside many African navy forces, said Captain Phil Heyl, a Coast Guard officer and maritime security advisor assigned to Africa Command.
“US Africa Command is committed to supporting African efforts to build sustainable maritime security capabilities to protect critical resources like fisheries,” Heyl said.

The US Navy and US Coast Guard do not actively patrol African waters. Instead, they work with African maritime forces to increase the ability of African forces to better patrol and protect their own waters.
“West African countries have shown a desire to stop poaching and other illegal activities in their offshore waters,” Heyl said.

Africa Partnership Station, a long-term maritime program, has used both US Coast Guard and US Navy vessels to work with African Coast Guards, navies and other African agencies “to develop boarding techniques and procedures, inspections of cargo and fishing vessel licenses, and search for illegal, unreported, or unregulated fish, as well as other illegal items,” Heyl said.
“The key,” he said, “is to work with other US government agencies, such as NOAA to provide the assistance to African coast guards to develop long-term capacity to enforce African laws.”

Teresa Turk, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, said the US Navy, Coast Guard and NOAA can be an effective team to coordinate with their counterpart agencies in African governments when addressing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, along with marine security and drug trafficking.

“These issues all converge in West Africa,” Turk said.

A strong point of the Africa Partnership Station ships is that they build diverse crews from many nations, developing improved professional networks. However, she also urged US Navy members, who may visit a particular area for a few days or weeks, to work hard to understand local cultures and ensure that their actions fit in with long-term US goals so they don’t undermine those who work in a region for many years.

For example, she said, US Navy sailors and NOAA scientists are viewed by African partners as essentially the same — all are Americans.