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Nigeria, others intensify action on tackling illegal fishing in W/Africa

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NIGERIA and five other coastal countries in West Africa have been meeting in Lagos to discuss progress on their efforts in stopping illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in their waters.

The other countries that participated in the three-day meeting, which ended today, are Togo, Benin, Ghana, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire, with supporting partners from the European Union (EU), African Development Bank (AfDB), African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and Norway, which has been supportive through the Norwegian
Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).


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The six countries had come together in 2007 as a body, the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC), to tackle illegal fishing.

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It was estimated that between 40 and 60 per cent of fish caught in the West African waters were caught illegally, a situation the FCWC Secretary-General, Seraphin Dedi Nadje, described as among the highest levels of illegal fishing globally.

Secretary-General, FCWC, Seraphin Dedi Nadje

Why global ado about fishing?

According to the West Africa Task Force (WATF), which the FCWC established as the inter-agency regional mechanism to combat IUU fishing, the crimes involved in IUU go beyond illegal fishing and fisheries issues alone, so much so they required countries to collaborate to tackle effectively, hence the creation of the FCWC.

Illegal fishing operators are said to be committing a range of violations and crimes against national fisheries regulations, national laws, and regional and international laws. It was agreed that national fisheries authorities alone cannot effectively tackle the violators and, therefore, needed one another to contain them.

The crimes and violations include:

– Illegal trade and smuggling

Fishing vessels are alleged to be used for providing cover for conducting illicit trade that include drug and gun running, and smuggling;

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– Money laundering

Illegal fishermen are known to set up company structures that mask the real owners, making it difficult to identify their links with known criminals. This ploy also makes it difficult to establish money laundering, and hard for sanctions to be enforced;

Paul Opuama, Nigeria’s representative at FCWC meeting in Lagos

– Risking lives of crew

Some vessels sail without seaworthiness clearance certificates in violation of national laws, thereby risking the lives of the crew;

– Human trafficking and forced labour

Illegal vessels get their crew through human trafficking, with workers tricked into working on the vessel and subjected to forced labour with violence and intimidation. The workers are stuck at sea, with no opportunity to escape;

– Mislabelling

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Illegal operators mislabel fish with false species information to fool inspectors or customs officials, or to circumvent EU-IUU regulations, leading to buyers and consumers being victims of fraud;

– Health and Hygiene

Illegal operators cut costs on everything, including on health and hygiene, with little regard for the welfare and health of the crew, and the hygiene of the fish;

– Corruption

– Corruption facilitates illegal fishing and crimes related to fisheries. This undermines governance and development, as corruption does in every other sphere of life and business;

– Forged documents

– Illegal fishing operators secure their ‘flag’ by forging documents, claiming a false identity, or covering up their history of illegal operations;

– Identity fraud

– Non-authorised vessels can assume the identity of legitimately licensed vessels;

– De-activated trackers

– Illegal fishing vessels operate with little or no trackers.Their captains deactivate trackers to hide their location and activity, and could be a collision risk for other vessels at sea.

To underline the importance attached to the fight against illegal fishing, the ECOWAS Director of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alain Sy Traore, spoke at the opening of the meeting on Tuesday, May 10, 2022 of the legal effect being finalised on the enabling Act of
the FCWC, with a view to facilitating the institutional anchorage with ECOWAS.

The African Development Bank is also supporting the effort through a regional programme on fisheries, blue economy (marine environment) and trade corridors, while the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is implementing the FAO/Technical Cooperation programme on fighting IUU fishing in West Africa.

Traore expressed gratitude to the European Union for funding the PESCAO (Programme for Improved Regional Fisheries Governance in Western Africa), and to the Norwegian government for funding the WATF on stopping illegal fishing.

“We are optimistic that these cooperation ties will be strengthened in the near future and will help coastal countries, particularly the countries of the FCWC to build strong national MCS (monitoring, control and surveillance) systems, and to operationalize the regional
MCS centre based in Accra, Ghana.

Bola Kupolati, Consultant

“The goal is to fight efficiently against IUU fishing within their territorial waters and the maritime domain of the ECOWAS, insure well-managed fish resources and protect the coastal maritime areas,” he said.

Representatives of the six member- countries, in their presentations, lauded the efforts of the WATF in combating illegal fishing, saying the initiative had contributed a lot in checking marauding fishing vessels.

The representative from Nigeria, Paul Opuama, said that, for instance, some Nigerian-flagged vessels found to be contravening a section of the Sea Fisheries Act of 1992 were sanctioned and fined, with payments to the government treasury account.

There remain some challenges, still. Member countries lack adequate funds to hold regular consultative meetings with the relevant stakeholders to create awareness and sensitisation.

A consultant to the organisers, Bola Aduke Kupolati, called on the National Assembly to quickly pass the reviewed Sea Fisheries Act of 1992 to enhance the objectives of the FCWC, a request the Federal Director of Fisheries, Ime Umoh, responded to promptly, saying the government was already concluding the process.

Opuama said the Federal Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Nigeria needed technical support to address the strategic take-off and implementation of the Port State Measure Agreement (PSMA), which Nigeria recently ratified and which is believed would go a long way in preventing, deterring and eliminating IUU fishing.

Already, Nigeria is implementing some provisions of the PSMA, collaborating with agencies like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Customs Service on frozen fish importation to authenticate
their source of origin.

The FCWC was also told that members would need capacity building in areas like port inspection, PSMA, national plan of action on IUU documents, data collection and collation on inshore fisheries, and on artisanal/canoe registration.

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