Focus Us ... illegal fishing ( Second Part )

Consequences of illegal fishing

By scraping the bottoms near the coast with their fishing gear, trawlers are destroying the fish habitat and are making them gradually barren. The catches by artisanal fishermen are therefore catastrophically declining. The poverty of the fishermen but also of all stakeholders related to artisanal fisheries – such as female processors or traders who account for nearly two thirds of the jobs – is greatly aggravated by the illegal industrial fishing. Imagine the anger of these coastal communities who are helplessly watching trawlers plunder their fish before their eyes, a short distance from the coast!

The presence of trawlers in the traditional fishing areas causes collisions with canoes, regularly leading to the loss of fishermen. Damages to the fishing gear of small fishermen are also bemoaned.

The fall in artisanal catches, combined with the non-landing of illegal catches, is increasing the vulnerability of populations in terms of food safety, which is a dangerous situation, knowing the dependence of African populations on fish as main source of proteins.

Landing in a port of the country is a source of income and jobs: handling, storage, various taxes, etc. When industrial vessels tranship their catches at sea, this is therefore a significant shortfall and an increase in unemployment. It is estimated that the amount that a State can levy on an industrial ship is on average 10% of the value of their catches. Knowing that a parent ship can carry fish for a value of 7 to 8 million US dollars, the losses to illegal fishing is valued at nearly one billion USD per year for sub-Saharan Africa alone. The most affected area is West Africa with an average of 40% of illegal catches, and in some countries such as Guinea and Guinea Bissau, illegal catches exceed legal catches.

All of these combined effects are further impoverishing countries already among the poorest, and increasing the vulnerability of their people. Ultimately, this situation of injustice and poverty result into socio-political tensions and a sense of rebellion vis-à-vis countries that practice or tolerate illegal fishing. It is difficult for local fishermen to find alternative livelihoods and many of them consider illegal migration to Europe as the ultimate solution to their distress.

What to do to stem this tide?

Strengthening the monitoring capacity of West African coastal countries. In particular supporting the engagement of the states gathered in the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) to organize a concerted monitoring of their EEZ with substantial financial support. Such a system of sub-regional surveillance can help achieve economies of scale and to track ships that are taking refuge on the other side of a border. This has already been implemented with relative success by the SRFC (the Monitoring Operations Coordination Unit), but the end of its funding has stopped the initiative.

Ensure that a significant portion of fines are allocated to the funding of monitoring and incentives of crews.

Organizing and supporting the existence of bases spread along the coast with efficient equipment (speedboats, communication and surveillance equipment) and with high operating costs. This monitoring system can only work with dedicated teams that accept some level of risks, and protected against risks of corruption through consistent incentives.

Promoting participatory monitoring of traditional fishing areas in collaboration with the local fishermen. The latter can participate in monitoring operations by embarking aboard patrol boats or sending information to the competent authorities.

Improving the communications between the European Union (and other import countries) with West African countries to come up with a blacklist of illegal operators and deny them access to the European market.

Strengthening inspections at ports of landing in particular vis-à-vis vessels from areas where illegal fishing is most developed such as West Africa.

Supporting the efforts of the European Union to require Spain to ban the landing of illegal catches and to withdraw the logistic facilities granted to IUU fishing vessels. Efforts have been made ​​in this direction with the European regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing (2010) and the involvement of INTERPOL in its implementation.

Working with representatives of artisanal fisheries, the Network of Parliamentarians active for environmental protection, and PRCM partners to develop lobbying operations at regional and national level.


While the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 75% of global fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, IUU fishing is a major obstacle to the development and conservation of the world’s fishery resources. Based on the current declining trends of stocks, specialists are now considering the possibility of a generalized depletion by 2035. Considering the crucial significance of these resources to the economies of West African countries, for employment and food security of their populations, the mobilization of all forces is urgent both within the countries involved and in consumer countries to fight this practice.

Bibliography (Convention on the Law of the Sea) (brochure of EJF on IUU fishing in West Africa) (IUU fishing blacklist) (European Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing, which came into force in 2010) (IUU and participatory monitoring in Guinea) (Interpol tackles illegal fishing) (Treaty on measures under the State remit to combat IUU fishing/2009)


Agnew DJ, Pearce J, Pramod G, Peatman T, Watson R, et al. (2009) Estimating the Worldwide Extent of Illegal Fishing. PLoS ONE 4(2): e4570. doi:10.1371/

CAPE, 2010. Pêche illégale en Guinée: poisson volé, vies volées. 3p.

EJF (2007). Pirate Fish on Your Plate – Tracking illegally-caught fish from West Africa into the European market. Environmental Justice Foundation, London, UK.

EJF (2009) Dirty Fish – How EU Hygiene Standards facilitate illegal fishing in West Africa.

Environmental Justice Foundation: London

Sea Around Us, 2012. Projet ‘Recherche en Conservation des écosystèmes marins, collaboration et support en Afrique de l’Ouest", presentation brochure.

Mac Connell, T. 2008. An offshore free-for-all. Africa Report 12, 26-28.

CSRP – FAO, 2002. Robbers, reefers and ramasseurs. A review of selected aspects of fisheries MCS in seven West african countries. Prepared by K.Kelleher. 108 p.

Greenpeace, 2012. The plunder of a nation’s birthright: the fishing license scandal. 24 p


Crédit Photo : PRCM/Hellio Van ingen



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