Even though the problem of illegal fishing is worldwide, Greenpeace flagged the aggravated threat to the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on healthy fisheries and the denial of affected governments of billions of dollars in revenue, says the writer. Picture: Reuters
Even though the problem of illegal fishing is worldwide, Greenpeace flagged the aggravated threat to the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on healthy fisheries and the denial of affected governments of billions of dollars in revenue, says the writer. Picture: Reuters

Not everyone is hiding from Covid-19, especially those fishing illegally

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 18, 2020

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Victor Kgomoeswana

Not everyone is hiding from Covid19, especially those fishing illegally. During the pandemic, Greenpeace International is reporting that the plundering of fishing stocks in West African waters at the expense of local artisanal fishing communities of Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia is continuing unabated.

Dr Aliou Ba, political adviser for Ocean Campaign at Greenpeace Africa, paints a very scary picture: “The world economy is in recession and the West African region is not spared. At the same time, the fishmeal and fish oil industry is thriving, using local fish stocks to produce food for pets, pigs and fish in the aquaculture industry around Europe and Asia at the expense of vulnerable populations in West Africa.”

This is not the first time foreign vessels are looting African fishing stocks. In May 2017, Greenpeace cautioned against the lack of co-ordination among West African governments. A 10-week surveillance voyage and found even on the legally sanctioned vessels there were illegal activities going on.

It boarded 37 fishing vessels and found evidence of illegal shark finning, possession of incorrect net mesh sizes, and fishing without licences or outside of permit areas.

Countries such as China, Italy, Korea, Comoros and Senegal were among the transgressors.

Even though the problem of illegal fishing is worldwide, Greenpeace flagged the aggravated threat to the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on healthy fisheries and the denial of affected governments of billions of dollars in revenue. West Africa, even then, was highlighted as the region where the problem was more severe. The region was losing an estimated $2.3 billion annually to illegal fishing.

Now, during the pandemic, while artisanal fishing communities are in lockdown, Greenpeace spotted about eight vessels scouring the coast of West Africa.

In East Africa, we all know of the Somali piracy from about a decade ago. While we attributed that piracy to the failed state that Somalia was, the real reason for it was overfishing by foreign vessels. When fishermen who depend for their livelihoods on fishing without the benefit of sophisticated powerful vessels are muscled out of their territory by foreigners, violence becomes appealing to them.

In South Africa, we have repeated incidents of attacks on foreign nationals. We condemn the attackers without interrogating the deeper undercurrents behind their resentment.

Unless there is a policy and regulatory framework for equitable participation in the local economy, we should not be puzzled when marginalised locals turn violent.

West Africa is the continent’s most diversified region. It is home to some of Africa’s most dynamic economies. It hosts the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area in Ghana and features the continent’s largest economy and most populous country. The top three cocoa producers in the world are in the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

The headquarters of Africa’s prime development finance institution is there as well. The implication of leaving illegal fishing unattended is that the artisanal fishermen will one day rise against their marginalisation and give us one of the bloodiest civil conflicts we have seen.

It must be stopped as a matter of utmost urgency, by Ecowas and AU.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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