The Ministry of Fisheries and its partners, the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), have jointly organised a one-day workshop to create awareness on the International Tribunal on Laws of the Sea’s advisory opinion on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in the high seas.
International Tribunal on Laws of the Sea is a judicial body established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to adjudicate disputes and matters concerning the interpretation and application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other agreements conferring jurisdiction on ITLOS.
On April 2, 2015 the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) rendered its advisory opinion in Request for an Advisory Opinion Submitted by the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC Advisory Opinion).
The opinion was sought by the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), a fisheries commission comprising seven West African coastal states which are The Gambia, Cape Verde, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Serra Leone, against the backdrop of the serious problem of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) exploitation of their marines resources.
Reminding the participants on the background of the workshop, Abdoulie Jarra, the permanent secretary at the fisheries ministries, said:
“On June 10 2015, SRFC member states, ITLOS and some members of the international community met in, Dakar, Senegal to review the advisory opinion provided by ITLOS and agreed on a Strategy action plan to operationalise the same.
“The sub-regional meeting also concluded that both the advisory opinion and the strategy action plan should be tabled for discussion at the national level for each and every SRFC member state. Thus, the rationale behind the ITLOS advisory opinion national sensitization workshop being held here…”
Dienaba Beye Traore, the head harmonization of policy and legislation unit at the Dakar-based sub-regional commission, said Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (‘IUU fishing’) is costing SRFC member states dearly.
She said IUU fishing is undermining the capacity of SRFC members to maintain their fishing industries and provide fish protein for their populations.
Reacting to a question on the Green Peace’s recent report which revealed that Chinese companies have been illegally fishing off the coast of West Africa, at times sending incorrect location data suggesting they are as far away as Mexico or even on land, she said the sub-regional body is limited in terms of its capacity to monitor and conduct surveillance in the waters of member states.
She however said SRFC relies on the corporation between its member states to share information of foreign fishing vessels that gets into the waters of its member countries with no regulatory power.
“We have a liaison office in Banjul that helps us gather information and we also work with the Interpol (International Police) with regards to cases of illegal fishing… We also work with the EU for verification of the identities of vessels suspected to have been illegally fishing in our waters because the EU has a large database on most of those ships that do not respect the international laws with regards to fishing in high seas,” she said.
“We do surveillance through national means. We (SRFC) are not a nation. That is why we rely on individual countries jointly working with each other and sharing information.”
She added: “The purpose of the request (ITLOS’s advisory opinion) was to advise member states on the best institutional and legal mean of eliminating IUU fishing and ensuring the sustainable management of shared stocks and stocks of common interest in SRFC’s intervention area. The request came within the framework of the effective implementation of the Minimal Condition of Access Convention, as revised in 2012, and also aimed at clarifying the international legal regime applicable to IUU fishing. According to the SRFC technical note to the Tribunal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone especially suffer from IUU fishing in their Exclusive Economic Zone (‘EEZ’), indeed almost the total allowable catch in these countries.”
Traore said the fishing sector in SRFC is growing very fast just as the IUU fishing but argued that the member states lack the capacity follow with equal pace.
According to the 2014 progress report of the Africa Progress Panel, the West Africa has a reputation of having one of the highest levels of IUU fishing in the world, amounting to an annual loss of around $1.3bn,
The Green Peace also said the number of Chinese fishermen operating in the waters of The Gambia and its sister West African countries, without proper licence, has risen from 13 in 1985 to a record 462 in 2013.
The workshop was attended by representatives from different ministries and stakeholders in the civil society groups.