More countries must increase inspections, CCRF must be incorporated by all nations
On Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, a conference was held in Nouakchott, the capital city of the West African nation Mauritania, to discuss transparency in the country's fishing industry. The conference ended with the adoption of a seven-principle declaration which was endorsed by Senegal, Mauritania, Indonesia and the Seychelles. The key purpose of this Nouakchott Declaration, as well as the conference itself, was to tackle the serious issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, as well as to support the long-term sustainability of world fish stocks.
For many years, IUU fishing has been a serious problem in West Africa and other parts of the world. In 2014, it was estimated that Africa was losing billions of dollars to illegal trawling, with West Africa in particular losing $1.3 billion. According to World Ocean Review, IUU fishing is responsible for 40 percent of all fish caught in the region. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has accused fishing trawlers from all over the world of participating in "organized theft" and said that the crisis has attained "epidemic proportions."
In Mauritania specifically, fishing accounts for around seven percent of the nation's GDP and employs approximately 40,000 people. The waters off of Mauritania possess some of the world's richest fishing stocks where such species as mackerel, snapper and sardines can be caught. Foreign trawlers, however, are illegally fishing in areas closer to the coast which are supposed to be reserved for local fishermen. These activities are forcing the artisanal fishermen to sail further out to sea in their brightly painted, wooden pirogues in order to catch anything. This is leading to a rapid depletion of the fishing stocks, which is putting the jobs and food security of millions at risk.
Mauritania's economic minister, Sid'Ahmed Raïss, has warned that a collapse in the country's fishing industry can lead to a rise in organized crime, terrorist activities and even piracy. Such a development wouldn't be entirely unheard of; foreign fishing trawlers depleting local reserves was one of the key factors behind the rise of Somali piracy around 2008 to 2009. These boats would take advantage of Somalia's inability to enforce its maritime laws and, in addition to other illicit activities, heavily exploit the country's fishing reserves. In fact, officials in the autonomous Somali region of Puntland, the former pirate stronghold, have been warning of a possible resurgence in piracy due to renewed (mostly Iranian) illegal fishing in Somali waters.
The only effective way to combat IUU fishing is through international coordination and increased regulation within individual countries. The Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI) in Nouakchott is a good starting point, but more nations, especially West African and Central American ones such as Liberia, Panama and Belize, need to increase regulations by inspecting ships registered in their countries. Additionally, the provisions that were agreed to in the non-binding 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) by 170 nations need to be incorporated into all of those countries' national laws and, perhaps most importantly, nations, particularly developing ones, need to clamp down on corruption to ensure that illegal catches aren't being landed at their ports.