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26th Jan 2020

Study: EU-accredited ships plundering African fish

  • Fish are being caught using illegal practices from vessels accredited to export to the EU off the West African coasts (Photo: Leigh Phillips)

Fish caught illegally off the coast of West Africa end up for sale in the European Union, according to a study by the UK-base charity Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).

“The EU is relying too heavily on the assurances of flag states that plainly are not monitoring their fishing fleets in West Africa,” said EJF executive director Steve Trent in a statement on Thursday (11 October).

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The 18-month study documented 252 reports of illegal pirate fishing by industrial vessels in inshore areas off the coast of Sierra Leone.

Nine out of the 10 vessels, which account for the majority of the reported illegal activities, are accredited to export to the European market.

The vessels “were found to be out of control,” says the EJF.

Evidence shows the EU-accredited boats went inside exclusion zones and used banned fishing equipment, among other violations. Bribes, intimidation, and the refusal to pay fines were also documented along with photos of a local fisherman beaten unconscious.

Some 90 percent of the boats trawled the oceans floors with large nets typically weighted down by metal plates and rubber wheels.

The nets can cause massive damage to the surrounding marine ecosystem. Most everything caught is simply dumped back into the sea, dead or dying, says EJF.

The study says the industrial-sized vessels have adversely affected the coastal communities and local fishermen by “severely compromising food security, local livelihoods, the health of fish stocks and the marine environment."

Victor Kargbo, head of Fisheries Enforcement in Sierra Leone, said in a statement that the EU could help deter the practice if they accept to import fish only from countries that properly monitor their fleets.

The EU’s illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) regulation is supposed to prevent illegal operators from profiting on such practices. The regulation went into force in January 2010 but the EFJ says it contains weaknesses that enable normally banned fish to still end up in the EU market.

“Authorities inspecting fish in European ports have very little reliable information on what is happening in the areas where it is caught,” said Trent.

The EU is the world’s largest fish importer.

The World Wildlife Fund says the average consumption of fish worldwide is 17.12 kg per person per year. In the EU, it is 22.3 kg.

The European Commission, for its part, says the illegal practices, on a global scale, deprives coastal communities of up to €18 billion worth of seafood and seafood products annually.

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