The African Union tackles illegal fishing in African waters


According to a recent report released by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the annual “turnover” of illegal and unreported fishing world wide amounts to $10 billion.

Driven by a growing demand from rich countries, this global poaching is rapidly growing. As stated by the FAO, approximately 30% of the seafood coming from the oceans does not appear in any declared fishing report.

And it is true that not a single area of the world is spared. The fact remains that the scourge has particularly hit the African continent due to the lacks of technical and financial resources that would enable it to control effectively its vast maritime surfaces. The shortfall resulting from the African seabed scraping by foreign vessels is estimated at two billion dollars per year. For this reason, the African Union and the FAO decided to tackle the problem seriously.

Ghost boats and shell corporations

Illegal fishing in African waters is multifaceted. It goes from the breach of regulations (off-season fishing or fishing in the unauthorized area, exceeding quotas, use of destructive fishing techniques) to pillage practiced by vessels without license. The booty is often transhipped on reefers, mixed with legal catches and then unloaded and sold in legal ports of Las Palmas (Canary Islands) and Suva (Fiji).

The identification of illegal vessels is all the more difficult because the fishing pirates roam the seas under flags of countries who are often not very fussy about their activities. Even worse – the ships can easily change flags and names several times per season to confuse the supervisors. The opacity of this practice, known as “the waltz of flags”, is complemented by the fact that the ghost ship owners usually hide behind shell corporations, based in tax havens.

Stolen fish – the future of African fishermen in danger

Illegal ships mainly target high-value species (bluefin tuna, Patagonian toothfish, shrimp, lobster…) and employ techniques that are particularly destructive, such as bottom trawling, blast fishing and throwing away fish that are considered unprofitable. Pirate fishing robs local fishermen of their resources and prevents the development of export channels.

Having met in Dakar at the end of March 2010, the Sub-Regional Commission on Fisheries of the Western Saharan Africa (CRSP), which includes eight coastal states (Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, SENEGAL and Sierra Leone), assessed the shortfall resulting from illegal fishing in the region to 49 billion FCFA. The African Advisory Board believes that the shortfall on the continental scale amounts to two billion dollars per year.

The AU and the FAO are tightening nets

At a meeting held on 6th and 7th April, the African Union (AU) adopted a “comprehensive African maritime strategy” to protect the African coast against: illegal fishing, acts of piracy and all kinds trafficking (release of toxic products, drug trafficking, illegal emigration). This strategy calls for the pooling of coastal surveillance operations and a database creation for all fleets in African waters.

For its part, on 25th November 2009 in Rome, the FAO adopted a new treaty that aims to close fishing ports to ships involved in illegal fishing. This agreement, which will enter into force once it gets ratified by 25 States, includes the establishment of a prior authorization to access ports as well as regular inspections of fishing permits, equipment used and logbooks. So far, the new FAO Treaty has been signed by Angola, Brazil, Chile, the European Community, the United States of America, Indonesia, Iceland, Norway, Samoa, the Sierra Leone and Uruguay.