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Illegal Fishing in West Africa

March 20, 2012

On a recent mission pursuing pirate fishermen off Sierra Leone’s coast, the head of the Fisheries Protection Unit found himself adrift on the high seas with six crew after their rented motorboat ran out of fuel…

Their ordeal, which ended when a U.N. helicopter spotted the stranded boat after two days, underscores the huge challenge facing impoverished West African states seeking to defend their waters from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

West Africa, recognized as one of the world’s richest fisheries grounds teeming with snapper, grouper, sardines, mackerel and shrimp, loses up to $1.5 billion worth of fish each year to vessels fishing in protected zones or without proper equipment or licenses.

Widespread corruption and a continuing lack of resources for enforcement mean huge foreign trawlers often venture into areas near the coast that are reserved exclusively for artisanal fishermen, allowing them to drag off tons of catch and putting at risk the livelihoods of millions of local people…

In an ironic twist, Sierra Leone’s Kargbo and his colleagues ended up being rescued by the same trawler suspected of illegal fishing that they had seized earlier in their troubled mission, the Marampa 803.

The 61-meter (200-foot) trawler, boarded by Kargbo’s unit before the group raced off to intercept another suspect vessel, was one of several owned by local firm Sierra Fishing Company (SFC). Its management had been outsourced to a Canary Islands-registered company, Taerim Ltd, according to private equity firm ManoCap, which owns 40 percent of SFC.

“We took the decision to outsource management, and then didn’t spend time looking at what the vessel was doing,” ManoCap founder Tom Cairnes said, adding management of Marampa 803 would be changed.

A Sierra Leone patrol had spotted the ship twice in inshore waters reserved for artisanal fishermen before it was seized.

More here.

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