Guinea reels over for­eign boats’ il­le­gal fish­ing

Kuwait Times - - FEATURES -

Idrissa Kallo’s ex­pert eyes dart across the wa­ters off Guinea’s port cap­i­tal, Conakry, look­ing for fish that al­ways seem fewer and far be­tween his nets. As African gov­ern­ments gather for a sum­mit in Togo aimed at crack­ing down on il­le­gal fish­ing, Guinea’s cor­rupt of­fi­cials and lack of re­sources to pre­vent the loot­ing of its wa­ters ex­em­plify the prob­lems fac­ing the con­ti­nent’s west coast.

The Marine Re­sources As­sess­ment Group (MRAG) has es­ti­mated that over $100 mil­lion (90 mil­lion eu­ros) in marine prod­ucts are caught il­le­gally in Guinean wa­ters ev­ery year, with the worst of­fend­ers be­ing Chinese, South Korean and Span­ish trawlers. “They come here dur­ing the night and fish un­til five or six in the morn­ing, then leave our wa­ters,” Kallo said on­board his “pirogue”, a nar­row wooden fish­ing ves­sel typ­i­cal to west Africa. “Some­times the in­spec­tors are com­plicit, and cut the sur­veil­lance sys­tems,” he added. “It’s the ones who hand out the li­cences who have been to blame for years now.”

A re­port by Bri­tain’s Over­seas De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute (ODI) es­ti­mated in June that more than 300,000 new jobs could be cre­ated in Africa if mea­sures such as a global track­ing sys­tem for fish­ing ves­sels were in­sti­tuted, le­gal loop­holes were closed and ves­sels who re­peat­edly in­fringed the law put on a global black­list. The sale of fish­ing rights to for­eign­ers net­ted Africa $400 mil­lion in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the UN’s Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion, but could in the­ory gen­er­ate $3.3 bil­lion if the con­ti­nent’s own fleets caught and ex­ported the fish.


Tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands when out on the high seas, Guinea’s fish­er­men call their col­leagues back on land if they ob­serve sus­pect be­hav­ior, who in turn pass on the in­for­ma­tion to the au­thor­i­ties, Kallo said. “(We) pro­posed a sys­tem of joint sur­veil­lance,” where fish­er­men would join in­spec­tors on boats caught in the act. Au­thor­i­ties did not go for it, he said, be­cause it risked un­veil­ing-and thus pre­vent­ing-cor­rupt prac­tices. “When they (in­spec­tors) catch a boat break­ing the law, the con­tents be­long to them. It’s a busi­ness,” he claimed.

Due to the poach­ing, lo­cal fish­er­men’s fam­i­lies lose out and so do the peo­ple on land whose liveli­hoods de­pend on fish. Conakry’s fa­mous smoke houses, for ex­am­ple, are al­most all staffed by women who can ill af­ford a col­lapse in fish­ing stocks. The sus­pi­cion of con­nivance be­tween the au­thor­i­ties and il­le­gal trawlers runs deep in Guinea, the sole coun­try in Africa to have been slapped with a ban on im­ports by the Euro­pean Union in 2013 for its fail­ure to act on “il­le­gal, un­re­ported and un­reg­u­lated” fish­ing.

But the ban was lifted this week af­ter con­crete steps were taken to deal with the prob­lem-a well de­served prize, said the man in charge of se­cur­ing Guinea’s seas, mar­itime com­mis­sioner Diomande Doum­bouya. A mar­itime op­er­a­tions cen­tre mon­i­tored its wa­ters 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said, track­ing in­for­ma­tion from GPS sys­tems built into boats. “If a ves­sel is en­gaged in il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties, it is re­ported. We can then board (the ves­sel) straight away,” he added.

They have had some suc­cesses: two Chinese ves­sels were among 14 iden­ti­fied as op­er­at­ing il­le­gally in a joint op­er­a­tion mounted by The Gam­bia, Guinea, Guinea-Bis­sau and Sene­gal be­tween Au­gust 28 and Septem­ber 1. The crews face com­bined fines of more than three mil­lion eu­ros ($3.3 mil­lion), though one of the ves­sels es­caped. Doum­bouya is adamant that the prob­lem is not one of greed, but of poor re­sources. “If the state were able to pro­vide speed­boats and the means to send out pa­trols more fre­quently... that would put these peo­ple off,” the colonel said, adding that the trawlers sim­ply waited for days when there were no mar­itime po­lice present.

Re­gional so­lu­tion?

Guinea’s fish­eries min­is­ter An­dre Louah be­lieves the coun­try now has the right data to in­form the au­thor­i­ties of the prob­lem, but ad­mits it of­ten lacks the means to do any­thing about it. “More than once, I have been in­formed that there have been unau­tho­rized ves­sels which were prob­a­bly fish­ing il­le­gally in our wa­ters,” the min­is­ter said. How­ever, the Na­tional Cen­tre for Sur­veil­lance and Pro­tec­tion of Fish­ing (CNSP) failed to re­spond, Louah said, un­der­lin­ing a fun­da­men­tal dis­con­nect. “It’s good to have in­for­ma­tion, but if we don’t have the nec­es­sary means to get there and board these ships, it be­comes a lit­tle dif­fi­cult,” he added.

The so­lu­tion, he be­lieves, is bet­ter re­gional co-op­er­a­tion, of the type that net­ted the Chinese ships dur­ing the sum­mer. That EU and World Bank-backed mon­i­tor­ing op­er­a­tion was a suc­cess of the type the sum­mit in Togo hopes to en­cour­age. For­eign Min­is­ter Robert Dussey said ahead of the African Union mar­itime se­cu­rity sum­mit on Fri­day the prob­lem had be re­solved with a joint ef­fort. “Most African coun­tries that have a coast­line are vic­tims of one of these prob­lems (il­le­gal fish­ing, pol­lu­tion, piracy), which is why it’s so im­por­tant for African lead­ers to sit down and try to find so­lu­tions.”—


CONAKRY: Women select and pre­pares fish in Conakry. The Marine Re­sources As­sess­ment Group (MRAG) has es­ti­mated that over $100 mil­lion (90 mil­lion eu­ros) in marine prod­ucts are caught il­le­gally in Guinean wa­ters ev­ery year, with the worst of­fend­ers be­ing Chinese, South Korean and Span­ish trawlers.


Fish­er­men stand on a boat in Conakry.

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