Illegal Fishing in West Africa

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BOSTON — For a good deal of the region’s history, many people living along the Western coast of Africa have depended on fishing in order to provide a living for their families. It has been estimated that one-fourth of the jobs in the region are linked to fishing and fisheries. But recently illegal fishing has been throwing the economy into jeopardy.

Rising global demands have sent many fishermen from a variety of countries to the Western coast of Africa in order to fish. These boats mostly hail from European countries, but other ships from East Asia and Russia have also been seen in the area. As a result, they’ve taken many of the fish and their resulting income out of the pockets of African people. The region has already lost $1.3 billion worth of fish to illegal fishing rigs.

This siphoning of money out of African pockets has destroyed many local communities, especially those dependent on processing and trading fish. Not only does this have a negative effect on the revenue of individual Africans and their communities, illegal fishing also lowers local catches, reduces global fish stocks and harms the marine environment.

Part of the problem is that many nations who send boats into the region to fish are either directly or indirectly subsidizing the process. This can usually be seen through cheap fuel and insurance for various ships. The biggest subsidizers are the European Union, Russia and East Asian countries that utilize “distant water fleets.”

Despite this negative outlook, there have been some attempts at rectifying this persistent problem. The Africa Progress Report sets out a detailed agenda. The Report relies on heavy fines for vessels that illegally fish, increasing transparency, offering support for artisinal fishing and providing full disclosure on commercial fishing permits that are issued. Other suggestions for solving the myriad of problems caused by this issue include creating a registry for vessels that fly under a flag of convenience instead of where they originate, so that African governments can avoid doing business with them.

However, many of these solutions could potentially pose problems because a good deal of African nations do not have the capacity to enforce rules like this. Many ports lack control where fishing hauls are reported and measured. This is only compounded by the fact that some nations are either unable or unwilling to implement these solutions, due to problems like corruption.

Illegal fishing is not just a problem for small West African communities. The rest of the world suffers from a lack of fish in the oceans. The depletion of fish in our oceans radically reduces a natural protection from climate change, and could have repercussions far beyond the shores of West Africa.

Andre Gobbo

Sources: Africa Progress Report, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: Adventures in Sierra Leone

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