Focus us ....illegal fishing ( The first part )

Since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, 1982 ) – ratified by 165 countries – coastal or island states are owners of their maritime space on 200 nautical miles or 365 km off the coast: this space is called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Vessels wishing to fish in these waters must therefore meet a number of conditions defined by the country involved, including buying a license and complying with regulations specifying the places and times of fishing, species caught, fishing gear allowed, and how transhipment or landing should be done. In addition, the awarding of licenses to foreign vessels must only be on the surplus of resources that national fisheries are not able to exploit.

Although, in principle, national observers are on board to verify the compliance of operations, illegal fishing remains a common practice. Particularly in West Africa where resources are plundered every year to the tune of 313 to 631 million dollars, representing a significant shortfall in earnings for states that only have limited resources. In the jargon this kind of plundering is called IUU: Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. Let’s see what is really behind these three letters.

IUU fishing involves:

-       Vessels fishing without a license or with forged documents. Vessels can forge their identity by changing the name or flag. Sometimes names are visible on the hull or concealed or covered by another name to avoid recognition. The NGO Environmental Justice Foundation, investigated illegal fishing in Sierra Leone and Guinea, and mentioned the case of a Chinese trawler named Lian run 12 which still had its old name Longway 008 on its hull when it was caught fishing without a license; on the same day another trawler named Long way 008 was seen in another part of the Guinean EEZ. Other examples: the trawler Seta -70 and the freezer parent ship Seta -73, both of South Korea, have previously sailed under the flags of Belize, Angola, and Japan; the Kumyeong-2, formerly called Bellesol-2 was recently seen anchored in the port of Conakry under the name Consu. They rather left Freetown, Sierra Leone, when authorities there wanted to investigate about them. These fluctuating registrations are also used to forge the identity of the owners of pirate ships to evade prosecution by a state and heavy fines.

-       Non compliance with the terms of the license relating to types of fishing gear (non- regulatory mesh), authorized quotas or fishing areas. Thus, some trawlers are fishing near the coast and in the areas reserved for artisanal fisherfolk. In addition, the “collectors” are operating the towboat fishing, i.e. they carry or tow fifty canoes and their crews who fish for them. They can collect nearly 4 tons of fish per day in this way without having to enter the area reserved for artisanal fishing and therefore, without paying any license. Some boatmen of Senegal have therefore fished along the coasts of Gabon and Angola in this way, living aboard the “collectors” in inhumane conditions.

-       Transhipment at sea of catches from fishing vessel to a freezer parent ship is allowed only in a port of the country or, in case of lack of infrastructure, should be subject to strict control. Transhipment at sea allows to escape the financial compensation due to the country and port taxes. It also allows for packaging the fish in boxes bearing the name of boats in legal status, thus falsifying the origin of the capture or the identity of the vessel that did the fishing.

-       Falsification of records, prevention of controls through the absence of observer onboard, lack of ladders to enable inspectors or maritime police access onboard.

The practice of illegal fishing is facilitated by the existence of ports of convenience, particularly the port of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Spain, which has a free zone status. Companies receive a variety of tax and customs benefits there that facilitate the landing, transportation and sale of fish caught by pirate ships. Las Palmas is thus an entry point to European and Asian markets for the illegal fish; once unloaded in the Canary Islands the fish enters legally in Europe and may be carried elsewhere without further control.


Credit Photo  PRCM/Hellio Van ingen