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Combating Illegal Fishing in Sierra Leone

Tuna Sustainability Economics +6 more

ANALYSIS - In the past year, there has been a huge crackdown on illegal fishing in Sierra Leone thanks to work done by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF). Despite the success, more input from governments and ports are needed to eliminate this damaging activity, writes Lucy Towers, TheFishSite Editor.

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Work by the EJF on eliminating illegal fishing in the waters off Sierra Leone was presented at the Humber Seafood Summit 2012 by Max Schmid, Project Coordinator for the EJF.

The EJF surveillance boat has been operating in the waters off Sierra Leone, responding to sightings by local fishermen when foreign vessels have appeared less than 10 miles offshore.

Evidence recorded by the surveillance boat is taken to governments, the European Union and global organisations in an effort to try and bring an end to illegal fishing.

The main perpetrators in Sierra Leone are Korean bottom trawler vessels, which are thought to be fishing for yellow croaker. The yellow croaker is often landed in Las Palmas and is sold on the Spanish and Asian markets.

Illegal fishing is a big problem for the local communities, who use small handmade crafts, to fish. Not only is the illegal and unsustainable fishing causing damage to the marine ecosystem, it is also forcing local fishermen to fish elsewhere, having a knock-on effect.

Where the surveillance boat has been successful in leading to the arrest and fining of illegal vessels, illegal fishing has stopped. However, this has led to increased illegal fishing in other areas, and many illegal vessels have been identified operating under different names.

Mr Schmid noted that, since January 2012, illegal bottom trawling has stopped in Sierra Leone due to the work done by EJF. However, this has led to illegal fishing activity moving north to the waters off Guinea.

Despite the success of eliminating illegal yellow croaker fishing, it is suspected that the illegal fishing of tuna is still occuring further off-shore from Sierra Leone.

Due to the large distance from shore, the EJF vessels are unable to survey or prevent this fishing from taking place. Mr Schmid acknowledged that more work needs to be done in this area.

In order to fully combat illegal fishing, a global record of boats needs to be made so that vessels that are known to be fishing illegally can not simply to move to another area, a problem that is occuring now, said Mr Schmid.

The FAO is currently in talks about the creation of such a record, but EJF would like to see the process speeded up.

Another problem that must be addressed is that many vessels are either unlicensed or using fake licenses. EJF is also calling for more vessel monitoring, as many vessels claim to have fished in areas they did not. Vessel monitoring would therefore show proof to authorities of where the vessel has operated.

So far, the work done by EJF in preventing illegal fishing has been encouraging. Mr Schmid stated that authorities at Las Palmas are becoming more vigilant but, with the lack of proof over fish origin, more still needs to be done in order to prevent illegal fish entering the market.