West Africa is now a global hub for illegal fishing, losing about $1.3 billion every year with Senegal accounting for close to $300 million, a new report from the Africa Progress Panel has shown.
Industrial vessels from around the world, primarily from China and Russia, are exploiting waters off West Africa, hauling hundreds of tons of fish and causing permanent damage to the marine environment, CNN reports.
International fishing companies are beating the system by fraudulently transferring stocks of fish to commercial vessels using normal fishing boats, while others are transporting fish from West African ports in large freezers on container ships, which are hardly inspected.
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According to the Africa Progress Panel, 84 percent of illegal fish from West Africa is transported using container ships.
“These big vessels hold heavy nets that destroy the ocean and the marine habitat but especially nurseries for juveniles, which prevents the fish from reproducing,” says Abdou Karim Sall, Platform of Senegalese Artisanal Fishermen (PAPAS) president.
Dwindling Fishing Sector in West Africa
At least 3 million people in West Africa earn a living from fishing, but the continued use of large trawlers by foreign fisheries is driving these individuals out of business, according to the World Bank.
“Trawling has damaged nets and boats of local villagers, destroyed the seabed breeding grounds of many fish, and depleted regional fish stocks,” the World Bank reports.
The bank also estimates that only 2 percent of the wealth generated from fisheries in West Africa benefits locals mainly because most trawlers are foreign.
Researchers have criticized the political establishment within West Africa, saying it is reluctant to create a well-defined legal framework to deal with illegal fishing. They also accuse West African governments of lacking political will to enforce the existing laws.
The report recommends putting in place systems that will ensure thorough scrutiny of container vessels, banning transhipments, and establishing an international database and tracking system for all vessels.