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Ban Transhipment of Catches in West Africa

April 10, 2013

Pirate Fishing Exposed – The Fight against Illegal Fishing in West Africa and the EU (4 minute)

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) is calling for a ban of all transhipments of fish catches in the waters off West Africa. Their view is that “whether or not authorised, transhipments at sea frequently facilitate the laundering of illegal fish due to the inability of coastal and flag States authorities to monitor how, by whom and where transferred fish was caught.”

An outright ban is an interesting campaign ask.  On one hand, it would greatly raise the cost of industrial fishing in the region, which could unfairly punish legal operators. On the other, West African countries have little capacity to monitor transhipments and we know illegal fishing is rampant.  

Assuming it’s unlikely that there are many ‘well-behaved’ industrial operators, I think this a great campaign goal.  I hope they succeed, or at the least get far stronger observer on-board policies for fishing vessels as well as refrigerated cargo vessels (aka ‘reefers’).

Illegal transhipment at sea
Illegal transhipment at sea. From EJF.

 Along with the call, EJF released a briefing paper on transhipments in West Africa. Below I put my favorite bits.

Why observers are not enough:

[C]oastal States rely on observers onboard individual fishing vessels to ensure the legality of activities. However, this is not a sufficient method of control for three reasons:

• Observers do not have the authority or capacity to arrest cargo vessels in cases of illegal activities.

• Observers are often compromised, as in many coastal States they are paid by the operators rather than the Government and thus rarely expose illegal fishing.

• Observers remain on individual fishing vessels and cannot monitor and verify the documents held by cargo vessels to ensure that the transferred fish is being properly logged and presented on arrival to port. Observers on legal vessels that are authorised to tranship onto reefers at sea are powerless to prevent that ship from subsequently transhipping with IUU vessels and laundering the illegal fish under the legal vessel’s paperwork.

Why VMS and AIS is not enough:

Detecting them is made even more difficult by the fact that many such vessels with an Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) switch their systems off to ensure that neither the flag nor coastal States can monitor them. This is despite the uninterrupted use of AIS by cargo vessels being required by the International Maritime Organisation.

I’ve heard it will soon be possible to determine the likelihood 0f whether an AIS system was turned off, rather simply having its signals blocked by cloud cover. I hope so. Such a tool would probably never generate sufficient evidence to punish a vessel, but it could be a boon to determining what vessels to more greatly scrutinize.

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