Tag Archives: unlawful fishing

Fish Poachers in Africa

trawler. image from wikipedia

In Sierra Leone nearly half the population does not have enough to eat, and fish make up most of what little protein people get. But the country’s once-plentiful shoals, combined with its weak government, have lured a flotilla of unscrupulous foreign trawlers to its waters. Most of the trawlers fly Chinese flags, though dozens also sail from South Korea, Italy, Guinea and Russia. Their combined catch is pushing Sierra Leone’s fisheries to the brink of collapse.

Sierra Leone is not alone in facing this crisis. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, 90% of the world’s fisheries are dangerously overexploited. The Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, a think-tank funded by America’s defence department, reckons that about a quarter of fish caught off Africa’s shores are taken illegally.

Excerpt from Poachers afloat: Why Sierra Leone is running out of fish, Economist, Dec. 16, 2017

Blowing Up Poaching Fishing Boats

Airline

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau, fighting a rising tide of illegal fishing in its waters, has set fire to four boats of Vietnamese caught poaching sea cucumbers and other marine life in its waters. Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau Jr., said..he hopes to turn most of the island nation’s territorial waters into a national marine sanctuary, banning commercial fishing and exports apart from limited areas to be used by domestic fishermen and tourists. “We wanted to send a very strong message. We will not tolerate any more these pirates who come and steal our resources,” Remengesau said in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Washington, D.C., where he was visiting.

The country created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, but until recently had only one patrol boat to help protect its great hammerheads, leopard sharks and more than 130 other species of shark and rays fighting extinction.

The four boats destroyed  were among 15 Palau authorities have caught fishing illegally in their waters since 2014  with loads of sharks and shark fins, lobsters, sea cucumbers and reef fish. Several of the boats that it seized, stripped of their fishing gear, are due to carry 77 crew members of the boats back to Vietnam.  Remengesau said that the stream of poachers showed that just stripping the rogue boats of their nets and confiscating their catches was not enough”I think it’s necessary to burn the boats,” he said.

Palau, about 600 miles miles east of the Philippines, is one of the world’s smallest countries, its 20,000 people scattered across a tropical archipelago of 250 islands that is considered a biodiversity hotspot. In 2012, its Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Driven by rising demand from China and elsewhere in Asia, overfishing threatens many species of fish. ..[A]bout a fifth of the global market for marine products caught and sold, or about $23.5 billion, is caught illegally.  Advances in telecommunications and vessel tracking technology have improved surveillance, but enforcing restrictions on unauthorized fishing is costly and difficult, especially given the many “pockets” of high seas in the area….From Palau to Japan is a vast expanse of seas that nobody controls and nobody owns, areas that serve as refuges for illegal fishing vessels.

One way to counter that tactic is to create a “geofence” using vessel identification systems that could trigger alerts when vessels cross into national waters.

Nearby Indonesia also is taking harsher action, recently blowing up and sinking 41 foreign fishing vessels from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, as a warning against poaching in the country’s waters.

In Hanoi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh recently told reporters the government was seeking to protect the rights of the fishermen. He urged other governments to “render humanitarian treatment toward the Vietnamese fishing trawlers and fishermen on the basis of international law as well as humanitarian treatment toward fishermen who were in trouble at sea.”  While burning and sinking such ships seems drastic, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has backed such moves, ruling that countries can be held liable for not taking necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported or unregulated, so-called IUU, fishing operations by their vessels in the waters of other countries.

In a report on IUU fishing last year, the Indonesia government outlined a slew of tactics used by poachers, including fake use of Indonesian flags on foreign vessels, forgery of documents and use of bogus fishing vessels using duplicate names and registration numbers of legitimate ships.

Excerpts from Elaine KurtenbachPalau burns Vietnamese boats caught fishing illegally, Associated Press, June 12, 2015

Slavery and the Fishing Industry

slavery. image from wikipedia

Maung Toe, an immigrant from Myanmar, laboured unpaid for six months on a Thai ship fishing illegally in Indonesian waters…naval patrols came close, but the crew would evade them. He had been forced aboard at gunpoint and sold by a broker to the captain for $900. It was the first time he had ever seen the sea.

Mr Maung’s story is told by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a charity, in a recent study of trafficking and piracy in Thailand’s seafood industry. The country hosts tens of thousands of trafficking victims, by conservative estimates, many from Myanmar, as well as from Cambodia and Bangladesh. Many of them sweat on trawlers or in vast fish-processing plants. Some were duped by recruitment agents; a few were kidnapped. Others are migrants who were waylaid by traffickers while travelling through Thailand.

Overfishing is partly to blame. Average catches in Thai waters have fallen by 86% since the industry’s large expansion in the 1960s. Such meagre pickings have driven local workers out of the industry and encouraged captains to seek ultra-cheap alternatives. Boats now fish farther afield and stay at sea for months at a time, making slavery harder to spot.

International pressure is mounting. The American government ranks Thailand among the least effective of all countries in fighting trafficking, along with Iran, North Korea and Syria. Food firms in Europe and North America—who together purchase about a third of Thailand’s fish exports—seem concerned. Last year the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, promised tougher enforcement. At a press conference this month, the authorities said they had identified nearly 600 trafficking victims in 2014.

But cynics worry that the military government in power since a coup last May will turn a blind eye again once the immediate threat to exports fades. Frank discussion of the business seems to be discouraged. Two journalists in Phuket—an Australian and a Thai—may face a defamation trial for republishing sentences from a Reuters article alleging that navy personnel had helped traffickers. In January  2015 campaigners forced the government to drop a plan to put convicts to work on fishing boats—a policy probably intended to dampen demand for bonded labour. A broader shift towards respecting human rights seems some way off.

Excerpts, Slavery and seafood: Here be monsters, Economist, Mar. 14, 2015, at 62

Another Way to Exploit African Countries; depleting their oceans by unsustainable fishing

Two-thirds of African countries have access to the sea. Some are making good use of it through fishing and tourism. But the productivity of African waters is plummeting….The main reason is bad governance. African Union calls to fight overfishing with joint navy patrols and co-operation between fisheries have been ignored. Nigeria, among Africa’s richest countries, lacks a serviceable navy. Some governments even collude in overfishing. Angolan fisheries officers rarely report the illegal catches of boats owned by politicians.  At the same time African states are failing to invest in much-needed marine research. They say it is a “donor activity”, meaning they want foreigners to pay for it. The continent has only one large oceanography department, at the University of Cape Town, and that is underfunded.

Coastal wetlands have little protection and fishing grounds are especially vulnerable. In many countries lot of foreign boats operate in areas close to the shore supposedly reserved for locals in dugouts. Some vessels use banned methods like light-luring (attracting fish with floodlights) and pair-trawling (where nets strung between boats are dragged on the sea floor).  Industrial fishing has been encouraged by rising global demand. The European Union has a series of agreements for its boats to fish in African waters. China has moved in too. The Russian fishing fleet is resurgent. In many cases, says André Standing, a researcher into fisheries agreements in Africa, it is not clear how much money is being paid for licences, or to whom. Critics say Africa’s failure to protect its ocean is political, the definition of a continent too weak to exert full control over its resources. A recent deal between Mauritania and China makes it hard to reduce the catch even if it is unsustainable.

Meanwhile the human footprint along Africa’s vast coastline is growing. The UN says African seaside cities are spreading by more than 4% a year…. Making the sea safer and more productive may be the best way to keep landlubbers peaceful. Experts have plenty of suggestions. Community initiatives could help get rid of dynamite-fishing and its ruinous effects. Conservation no-catch schemes such as one run by Blue Ventures, a Madagascan outfit, [of a UK charity] have proven their value. But there is too little money to scale them up. The best way to find the cash would be to point out the security costs of unhappy fishing communities to rich governments. Somalia’s piracy problem began in part as an armed response to illegal fishing in Somali waters. Some banditry in Nigerian waters started as a protest against the threat to fishing from the oil industry…..

The tributaries of Africa’s oceans are mostly clean and its mangroves in good condition, especially compared with those of Asia. But abuse is growing. With the sharks almost gone, Chinese diners are demanding manta rays and mobulid rays as ingredients for their expensive banquet stews. Frank Pope, an Africa-based writer on oceans, says that the slow-breeding rays could be gone even sooner than the sharks they used to swim alongside on the glittering reefs.

Excerpts, Africa’s oceans: A sea of riches,Economist, Feb. 18, 2012, at 52

See also Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements