A joint operation in partnership with the government of The Gambia to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in West Africa, that has already seen the arrest of three industrial trawlers for a number of fisheries offense, has resulted in the apprehension of a fourth trawler by law enforcement agents representing the Gambian Department of Fisheries and The Gambia Navy on board the Sea Shepherd vessel Sam Simon. Photos by Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd.
On the 11th of September, the fishing vessel Niam Niokho was arrested by Gambian fisheries inspectors and The Gambia Navy – supported by Sea Shepherd crew - for several counts of fishing within The Gambia’s nine-nautical mile Special Management Area reserved for artisanal fishermen in less than a month.
The incursions were confirmed both by the vessels’ own fishing log book as well as the fisheries observer’s fishing log. Many fishing vessels off the coast of The Gambia, have fisheries observers on board, who represent the country and who serve as a third-party checks and balances to the recordings of the fishing captain.
The waters of The Gambia are particularly rich in biodiversity as the country is positioned where the nutrient-rich Gambia River meets the Canary Current. The livelihoods of over 200,000 Gambians are directly or indirectly dependent on local fisheries while the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) believes that more than 46% of the assessed fish populations in the Eastern Central Atlantic are experiencing overfishing.
Sardinella and other small pelagic species are of critical importance to Gambians which is why the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources instituted a nine-nautical mile Special Management Area to conserve waters frequented by artisanal fishermen. However, industrial trawlers routinely come close to the shoreline with artisanal fishermen making daily complaints to the Ministry asking for compensation for nets lost to industrial trawlers running them over. Populations of sardinella are also rapidly declining due to these daily incursions.
The Niam Niokho is presently detained in the Gambian Port of Banjul.
“Operation Gambian Coastal Defense has netted four trawlers, three of which have fished in a special area reserved for fishing by local communities who depend on the Gambian coast for their livelihoods. The radar of the Sam Simon now shows that industrial trawlers are staying well outside the protected area, allowing heavily pressured fish populations to finally recover. Four arrests - and the following massive deterrent effect - show that the leadership of the Minister of Fisheries and Water Resources in cracking down hard on illegal operations is having an impact for local people." Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd Global’s Director of Campaigns.
Sea Shepherd’s partnership with The Gambia, named Operation Gambian Coastal Defense, marks the seventh African costal State to join a growing effort to stop illegal fishing around the African continent through joint at-sea patrols.
Since 2016, Sea Shepherd has been working in partnership with the governments of Gabon, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tanzania, Benin and Namibia to combat IUU fishing by providing the use of civilian offshore patrol vessels to African coastal states so that authorities can enforce fisheries regulations and conservation laws in their sovereign waters. To date, the unique partnerships have resulted in the arrest of 36 vessels for illegal fishing and other fisheries crimes.