Regional Partnership launched to stop illegal fishing

FISH-i AfricaA major regional partnership has been announced to help combat illegal fishing in the western Indian Ocean, which is causing serious economic losses as well as social and environmental problems for coastal states. The partnership, FISH-i Africa, launched by the Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF) working group of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), had its kick-off meetingin Seychelles on Thursday 13th of December 2012 at the Coral Strand Hotel at Beau Vallon, ending on Friday 14th of December 2012. With technical and financial support from the Pew Environment Group, the project will also involve cooperation with regional bodies such as the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) through its SmartFish programme on illegal fishing.

FISH-i Africa intends to build cooperation, information-sharing and analytical systems between the key Southeast African coastal states of Comoros, Kenya, Mozambique, Seychelles and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The partner countries have committed to establish a platform for real-time sharing of sometimes sensitive data on vessels, their movements, catch and owners, aimed at enabling nations to take timely action against suspected illegal operators.

Seychelles Minister for Natural Resources and Industry Peter Sinon, who opened the project’s inaugural meeting of fisheries officials and agencies, said: “Africa sits in the middle of very important and fragile oceans. We can no longer tolerate illegal fishing. We have to ensure this finite resource is passed on to future generations, and we have the jurisdiction to act now”.

As a ‘live’ example of the new engagement, Minister Sinon said Seychelles was actively sharing information with Mozambique in the case of the Spanish-owned tuna vessel Txori Argi, which was fined Euros 1.2 million earlier this year by a Maputo court for allegedly fishing without a license in Mozambique’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  Mozambican officials allege the bank bond put up for the penalty has not been honored.

Other possible areas of cooperation include sharing of legal and analytical expertise to pursue fishery and related crimes such as fraud, tax evasion and money-laundering. Delegates stressed the need for such expertise in tracing the real owners of some fishing vessels, often obscured by complex corporate structures registered in distant third-party countries. FISH-i will also bring ever-more accessible technology to assist in this work.

Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF) spokesman Mark Ssemakula stated that “In 2010, 33 African States at the Conference of African Ministers, Fisheries and Aquaculture (CAMFA) agreed on the need for urgent actions to deter and eradicate IUU fishing. FISH-i Africa brings a practical response to these recommendations. It provides a smart system for countries to work together to target their actions at those destroying our resources and not playing by the rules we set”.

The project to set up the FISH-i system will work for approximately 12 months, but, if successful, it is hoped the model can be extended and even replicated in other coastal African regions.

Nirmal Shah

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