Chinese fishing vessels operate illegally off the coast of Guinea, depleting its fish population and destroying marine life. Despite the economic and social consequences of illegal fishing, the Guinean government has failed to police its waters because it doesn’t have money to operate surveillance equipment, as the BBC’s Tamasin Ford reports.
Abdoulaye Soumah looks out to sea as fishermen bring in the day’s catch. Their brightly coloured traditional wooden boats glide into Bonfi port in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, where men wait to load the fish into baskets.
“We used to get between $700 (£540) and $1,400 worth of fish a day,” says the 32-year-old fisherman. “But now, because of the increase in illegal fishing, there are fewer fish,” he says angrily. “The same catch will now get around $140 because there’s no fish in the zone we normally fish in.”
The UN estimates that illegal fishing strips the global economy of more than $23bn every year. And the waters off West Africa have the highest levels of illegal catch in the world, according to the UK-based non-profit organisation, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), More than a third of all fish caught in the region is illegal, unreported or unregulated, it says.
“These illegal pirate fishing operators are in effect stealing from some of the poorest people on our planet to provide short-term profit to wealthy fishing operators,” says EJF head Steve Trent. He explains how a mixture of poor governance, limited resources and corruption create a situation ripe for exploitation. And Guinea is one of the worst examples.
It is the only country in Africa banned from exporting fish to Europe; the world’s biggest market. Levels of illegal fishing are just too high and the EU says the Guinean government “hasn’t shown the necessary commitment to reforms”.
The most prized fish in Asia
At the fish market in Conakry, Aboubacar Kaba, head of the Artisanal Fisheries Union, grabs a silver fish about the size of his forearm from the back of a refrigerator truck. “This is the most prized fish in Asia; the yellow croaker,” he says, claiming this is what the illegal trawlers are after. The fish is now classified as endangered and has reportedly disappeared from Chinese seas because of overfishing.
“In 2008 there were 14 Chinese trawlers in these waters,” he says. “We’re now in 2016 and there are close to 500 trawlers all searching for this species of fish.”
And, according to Greenpeace, many of these companies have a history of illegal fishing in the region. Hundreds of incidents of illegal activity by Chinese trawlers have been documented in West Africa over the years.
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