The Moral Dilemma of Developing Countries in the fight against Illegal Fishing

Photo: Pramod Ganapathiraju

IUU fishing threatens the livelihoods and food security of populations that rely on fisheries. Coastal populations and island communities, in particular, rely on the ocean for food and economic survival, thus it’s critical that fish stocks (food fish – sardines in West Africa) be managed in such a way that ensures livelihoods and essential protein are provided in a sustainable manner. Small-scale fishermen who adhere to the rules and regulations are disproportionately impacted by illegal fishing practices of industrial fishing vessels through loss of life, loss of fishing gear and fish catch. Artisanal fishers are among the most vulnerable people on the planet, and they generally receive a smaller proportion of economic benefits than commercial fish processors and retailers, as well as the export markets they supply.

As part of the global study evaluating Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance in 84 coastal nations I had the privilege of interacting with a very senior fisheries official who has worked in West Africa over a career spanning 30 years. Apart from giving the feedback for a couple of MCS country reports drafted by me he raised concerns for several background issues that give a glimpse of his experience dealing with diverse stakeholders. I asked for his opinion on recent developments concerning approaches by coastal nations to tackle illegal fishing. In response to one of my questions on why it is difficult to tackle IUU fishing in Africa.

He responded “the whole narrative on IUU fishing is nowadays controlled by foreign companies, NGOs, media outlets, and foundations based in North America and Europe. As sovereign UN members African nations have the means to control IUU fishing utilising judicial prosecutions, and administrative out-of-court settlements. So, just because some countries in Africa are not publicising their efforts does not mean that they are less proactive in curtailing IUU fishing. On the contrary, developing countries are under more pressure to control IUU fishing now due to EU-DG MARE and are dealing with this issue through new defence investments in modern surveillance infrastructure (patrol boats) and recruitment of more observers and inspectors. Fortunately, or unfortunately, investments in the African fishing industry and Latin America have only come from China who invests more in our countries than European or Asian companies. So, who should we pay more attention to China or the West? How many U.S. or European companies have invested in the fishing industry in West Africa ?.Very few, that to mostly EU companies. African nations also have to deal with the disproportionate debt that force us to take a lenient approach while dealing with the illegal Chinese trawlers. Some western ENGO’s and private trusts are also actively promoting certification labels, does that mean that all legally caught fish by poor nations can be only called sustainable if they are certified for the export market. of course not. IUU fishing can be only addressed when African leaders rise to the occasion and recognise a) the true market value of our resource (and how cheaply we are selling away our fishing licenses to foreign entities); b) the role of regional co-operation to share maritime intelligence on illegal vessels must be strengthened and; 3) real change will only arise when our leaders start putting the needs of our communities first before catering to the interests of foreign investors plundering our fish after paying us with peanuts”.

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