Our Campaigns Against Illegal Fishing Featured on Foreign Correspondent
Friday, 02 Sep, 2022
Sea Shepherd Global’s campaigns with our partners in West Africa were featured in last week’s edition of Foreign Correspondent, the prime-time international public affairs program on Australia's national broadcaster ABC-TV, titled “Poachers' Paradise: The Fight to End Illegal Fishing in West Africa”.
“The oceans off the coast of West Africa once teemed with fish. Millions relied on these plentiful stocks for their livelihoods. Now this rich resource is being plundered by foreign vessels, fishing illegally. These large trawlers can scoop up more fish in a week than the small, local boats do in a year. Local fishermen fear there will be nothing left for their children,” begins the latest episode of Foreign Correspondent.
Working with the European broadcaster Arte, their team visited the West African communities whose livelihoods are under threat from these foreign trawlers, and met with the activists helping them fight back, including Sea Shepherd Global.
“Hundreds of years ago, European countries came to the African continent to steal people from these shores”, says Captain Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd Global’s Director of Campaigns. “Now foreign fishing fleets have come to plunder fish. We were hearing from local fishermen and from the government that incursions across the border were a regular occurrence…a nightly occurrence that foreign flagged fishing vessels were fishing illegally in the waters of Gabon.”
Sea Shepherd has been conducting joint patrols with the government of Gabon to rid its waters of illegal fishing since 2016. “Some of the countries around the African continent may not have the vessel assets that can cover the entirety of their maritime jurisdiction or the range to get the law enforcers to the scene of the crime. So Sea Shepherd provides the ship, the operating crew who run the vessel, and the fuel, while the government partner, the host country, provides the law enforcement agents, the people with the authority to board and inspect and arrest vessels for illegal fishing.”
“The Chinese distant waters fishing fleet is the largest foreign fishing fleet operating off the coast of West Africa. It also ranks first in prevalence of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,” says Captain Hammarstedt as the M/Y Bob Barker’s small boat is shown approaching a Chinese fishing vessel for closer inspection. “Considering that the largest fishing fleet is also the one most likely to break fisheries laws and regulations, it’s the major driver of overfishing in the world.”
He says that because the patrols have been working in Gabon, the poaching problem has moved to the waters of a neighboring country. “That’s why we’re now moving from a national approach of dealing with illegal fishing to a more regional approach, ensuring there’s no place for the poachers to hide.”
Across West Africa poachers are depriving governments of billions of dollars each year. That’s why in 2017 Liberia followed the example of Gabon, patrolling their waters onboard Sea Shepherd’s vessel the M/Y Sam Simon (and now, the M/Y Age of Union) to detain ships caught fishing illegally.
“Those vessels knew that the Liberian coast guard didn't have the capability to go deep into the water, so they took advantage, and came to fish”, says General George, the deputy chief of staff of the Liberian Armed Forces. “It was time to act, because our local fishermen were going to be completely out of business.” Illegal fishing in Liberia has dropped dramatically but constant vigilance is required. “We have to stay on top of the poaching problem. If the patrols stop, it’s very likely that the illegal fishing problem comes back,” adds Captain Hammarstedt.
Since patrols started in Liberia five years ago, 19 ships have been arrested in suspicion of fishing illegally. Eight other West African nations are now working with Sea Shepherd.
“Overfishing is one of the largest challenges facing the world’s oceans. We’ve seen what’s possible in eliminating illegal fishing in the waters of Liberia, in the waters of Gabon. And if we can assist to shut down illegal fishing in those places, then we can assist in shutting down illegal fishing all around the African continent. If we can do it there, then we can do it in Latin America. We can do it in the South Pacific. And if we can do that, then we can really end overfishing. But we have to stay on top of the poaching problem. If the patrols stop, it’s very likely that the illegal fishing problem comes back.”Captain Peter Hammarstedt, on Foreign Correspondent