Pavel Klinckhamers, project leader onboard the Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza, said: “The fact that we managed to come across such a high number of vessels breaking the law in only a few days really confirms the alarming ‘Wild-West’ situation in the waters of West Africa. Fishing companies and crews have gotten used to exploiting Guinea Bissau’s insufficiently managed waters, and our findings show that illegal operations are most likely taking place on a daily basis. We commend the commitment from the highest level of the Bissau government to curb the ongoing situation.”
On 22 March, crew and three inspectors onboard the Esperanza caught Comoros flagged Saly Reefer doing illegal transhipment with the fishing vessels Flipper 3, Flipper 4 and Flipper 5, also flying Comoros flags. Transshipment at sea has often been linked to hiding fish caught without a license. Transshipment was banned by the government of Guinea Bissau in 2015.
Shortly after the boarding and the first inspection of the Saly Reefer and Flipper 4 by Greenpeace crew and inspectors, both vessels were escorted to the port of Bissau. The ships are owned by Las Palmas based Sea Group SL, and both the owners, as well as the crew onboard the two vessels, now face legal action and a fine.
On 21 March, three Chinese flagged fishing vessels Yi Feng 8, Yi Feng 9, and Yi Feng 10 were spotted 50 nautical miles from the shore of Guinea Bissau by Greenpeace and the inspectors. The vessels had names written only in Chinese, even though all fishing vessels are required by law to carry easily recognisable names. All three vessels are owned by the same Chinese company, Dalian Zhangzidao Yi Feng Aquatic Product Company Ltd. One of the vessels, the Yi Feng 8 was arrested and sent to port, while the other two managed to escape. However, their infringements were documented well enough to ensure the owners and crew will be prosecuted.
On 24 March, Greenpeace and the inspectors spotted another Chinese vessel, the Chang Yuan Yu 05, while it was fishing off the coast of the Bijagos Archipelago. The vessel is known by local authorities, since it’s owners have failed to pay a fine for using illegal nets in September last year. The vessel was boarded, arrested and taken back to the port of Bissau, where it will be detained until the fine is paid.
Dr Cisse, Ocean Campaign Manager in Greenpeace Africa, said: “West Africa is the only region in the world where fish consumption is declining due to over-exploitation of resources by too many vessels and by illegal fishing operations. The repercussions of fish stock depletion on food security and economy in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world is extremely concerning and must be tackled. In West Africa, where people rely heavily on fish as one of their main sources of protein, it is a vital source of income and employment for nearly seven million people. That is why we strongly encourage West African governments to set up a regional fisheries management body.”
Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in West Africa, IUU, is estimated to reduce the number of jobs in artisanal sectors by 300,000, and from 2010 to 2016 Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, lost around 2.3 billion USD annually in revenues, while a minimal amount of 13 million USD was recovered through Monitoring, Control and Surveillance, MCS. The highest number of IUU offenses in the West African region occurred in Guinea Bissau. In 2014, Guinea Bissau authorities documented as many as eight vessels fishing illegally during just one week of patrol. However, sanctions for breaking the law at sea in Guinea Bissau are either too weak or the law is not enforced properly.
About the Tour
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is currently on an expedition in West Africa to document the threat from overfishing to the marine environment and food security for millions of Africans depending on fish to survive. An expanding number of fishing operations are taking place in these rich waters, not only by foreign fleets but also by an increasing number of domestic, industrial fishing vessels. The Esperanza has already visited Cape Verde and Mauritania and now Guinea Bissau, where the joint patrol between Greenpeace and FISCAP was set up as a result of a special request from President José Mário Vaz, Guinea Bissau. The Esperanza will continue to engage in joint surveillance with local authorities in selected West African countries until the beginning of May.
Greenpeace is campaigning for the setup of a strong, regional management body in West Africa to ensure transparency, improvement of governance and positive impact on local economy and employment in all countries if this region.