The fight against illegal fishing

The oceans are important for our food supply, but they are overfished. To halt this trend and strengthen local fishers, the global community is now taking action against illegal fishing.

Illegal fishing off the coast of West Africa has been a serious problem for fish stocks for some time. An international agreement that came into force in 2016, the Port States Measures Agreement (PSMA), is intended to help. (c) Stop Illegal Fishing

Jan Rübel

Jan Rübel is author at Zeitenspiegel Reportagen, a columnist at Yahoo and writes for national newspapers and magazines. He studied History and Middle Eastern Studies.

Richard Yeboah has just got back to his office. “The last inspection went well”, he says over the phone, “there was no indication of an offence”. He had been on a trawler full of caught fish. “Not overloaded, and the fish were from waters that are not overfished.” Other things Yeboah’s team checked and found to be in good order included the ship’s engine and the working conditions of its crew – so the ship was given the green light to unload and refuel in Tema, a port on the coast of Ghana.

 

Richard Yeboah is an inspector. As a member of Ports Task Force Ghana, he tackles a major issue: illegal fishing harms the West African country in a wide variety of ways. Industrial fishing boats not only displace smaller fishers, they also deplete fish stocks, destroy biodiversity and make “blue growth”, the use of aquatic habitats as a source of sustainable nutrition for humans, more difficult.

 

In light of rising population figures this poses a serious challenge. Ghana’s waters are still rich in fish, but the country increasingly depends on imported seafood because floating metal giants flout rules and regulations and employ a “might is right” approach out on the ocean. Precise figures are hard to come by, but global damage from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is estimated at 23.5 billion dollars each year. The United Nations believe that two thirds of global stocks are already overfished and one third are declining. This is hardly blue growth. Those working to end mass fishing are faced with impenetrable structures that often have ties to international organised crime. Some trawlers not only encroach on ecosystems, but are also used to smuggle drugs or people or to covertly transport illegal wildlife products. IUU fishing is disastrous for the global fight against hunger, as according to estimates by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) fishing and aquaculture secure the livelihoods of between ten and twelve percent of the world’s population.

 

Fish is not only healthy. Local small-scale fishermen see themselves increasingly deprived of their livelihood by illegal fishing. (c) Stop Illegal Fishing

But there is a way to stop this trend. Every ship has to return to port sometime. Fish can be secretly transshipped on the high seas, but at some point it has to be brought to shore. And ships need to be refuelled or repaired. This is where the Port States Measures Agreement (PSMA) – an internationally binding, FAO-initiated treaty between port states that entered into force in 2016 and aims to curb illegal fishing – comes into play. Ghana is one of the parties to the PSMA. After the European Union (EU) issued a warning to the country in 2013 due to its overly lax controls, the authorities began to rethink their approach. Enter Richard Yeboah of the Fisheries Commission in Accra and the local task force: since 2018, this inter-agency unit has worked to put an end to overfishing. “At first it was difficult to bring all the involved state actors together”, says Yeboah, “but we are learning every day, and we are making significant progress.”

 

“Stop Illegal Fishing” (SIF) supports and advises the task force in Ghana in its work – with the help of GIZ, among others, and on behalf of the BMZ. “Non-sustainable fishing is a growing threat for developing countries”, says Friederike Sorg of GIZ. “GIZ works to preserve wild fish stocks and thus to protect incomes, food supply and economic growth.”

 

The three-year project operates not only in Ghana, but also in Madagascar and Mozambique. When inspectors board a ship for checks, JD Kotze often accompanies them from his desk in Cape Town, South Africa. The inspectors wear small cameras known as body cams. And JD Kotze isn’t just anybody: a former police officer, he has led special operations units in South Africa, hunted down rapists and serial killers, and became involved in investigating illegal fishing when he broke up the largest fish smuggling ring to date, ending in the arrest of the minister for development of the Cape Town region. “The idea to use body cams came about due to the coronavirus pandemic”, he says. Before the global covid-19 outbreak, he travelled frequently between the three project countries, but he notes that “this digital application even makes our work more effective”.

 

Local authorities inspecting a vessel. (c) Stop Illegal Fishing

But how does an inspection aboard ship actually work? Ships are generally required to notify ports of their arrival 72 hours in advance. The authorities then check the ship’s identity and history, its documents and licences, its crew, and whether its AIS global tracking system was deactivated at any time while the ship was at sea – a possible indication of transshipping on the open ocean or illegal fishing within a country’s twelve-mile zone. If the probability of IUU fishing is considered low, the ship is permitted to dock and given a positive endorsement. But if any irregularities or oddities emerge, the vessel is only allowed to enter the port on the condition that it is inspected. During this inspection, the ship may not avail itself of any port services. If IUU fishing is proven, the ship becomes subject to the measures to which its flag state has agreed in line with international law. “All these things can make IUU fishing more expensive”, says JD Kotze, adding that “transshipping at sea is also a cost factor.” If the ship has a documented history of IUU fishing, it can be prohibited from entering the port altogether.

 

The challenge in Ghana lay in convincing all involved parties to work together. “Historically, the purpose of port authorities was to create revenue for the government”, says JD Kotze, “so they weren’t keen on denying ships entry to their ports”. The police on the other hand tend to focus their crime-fighting efforts on theft, robbery and violence, he explains, and less on seemingly harmless activities like fishing. The checks around the PSMA require cooperation between multiple public authorities that had not previously worked together, followed different briefs and also have different sources of funding: alongside the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development and the Ministry of Transport, funds are also provided by customs authorities, the marine police, the military, and health authorities. At first, back in 2018, there were certainly reservations, says Kotze: some feared making mistakes, others worried about their funding – after all, cooperation is about community. “We are collecting more and more data”, says Yeboah. “Over time, a pattern has emerged that allows us to detect illegal activity more quickly.” The authorities regularly hold round table meetings and operate a joint digital platform to exchange the collected data.

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Workers unloading a trawler with abundant fish catch. (c) Stop Illegal Fishing

Despite the success of the PSMA as the first ever legally binding set of rules against IUU fishing, there are also a number of notable loopholes. China as one of the world’s largest fish producers has, for example, not joined the treaty yet; Chinese ships are among those operating off the West African coast, sometimes in business partnerships with Ghanaian owners. Liberia and Sierra Leone with their large fishing grounds are also not parties to the treaty. But Francisco Marí sees a positive trend. “The Ghanaian coast used to be the Wild West”, remembers the senior policy officer for world food security, agritrade and maritime affairs at German aid organisation “Brot für die Welt”. In the Soviet era alone, he says, 200 tuna vessels from the USSR trawled those waters.  That was a long time ago, but the issue of overfishing is not off the table. Help comes from PSMA. "The EU regulation against IUU fishing will ensure and reinforce the reduction of imports from IUU fishing, to the extent that illegal imports are even measurable, through actions taken by states because of PSMA."

 

However, Marí sees a loophole in the fact that smaller boats carrying transshipped fish are able to dock at illegal ports or land on beaches. "There is also frequent transhipment to fishing boats that have legal fishing licenses and use them to fill their quotas - called 'transbordering' - and deliver the catch mixed with their legal catch to EU ports with legal papers." Flagging out, the practice of fishing operators switching ownership to so-called flag-of-convenience states with lax checks, is still common; the FAO is attempting to counter this behaviour with sanctions against those countries – so far with limited success. Flag-of-convenience states may be landlocked countries such as Bolivia or Mongolia, and some fishing boats change flags regularly. This also makes checks more complicated, especially if the flag states have not acceded to regional fishing treaties.

 

Marí believes one option for fighting IUU fishing is to invite the many fishers to get involved, for example by photographing, documenting and reporting illegal fishing themselves: “In Senegal, small-scale fishers call the navy themselves when they notice infractions.”

 

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the oceans contribute 1.5 billion US dollars in value creation to the global economy. Much remains to be done if these figures are not to drop drastically. But the global community has made a start.

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Ideas on the ground: Local solutions for global challenges

Interview with Sebastian Lesch (BMZ)

A world without hunger and with sufficient healthy food as well as climate-friendly agriculture can only be achieved if ideas are transformed into innovations and ultimately also applied - a conversation with BMZ Head of Division Sebastian Lesch on the Innovation Challenge programme of the new Agricultural Innovation Fund.

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“Corona exposes the weaknesses of our nutritional systems"

Interview with Arif Husain (WFP)

The United Nations plan a Food Systems Summit - and now the Corona-Virus is dictating the agenda. The Chief Economist of the UN World Food Programme takes stock of the current situation: a conversation with Jan Rübel about pandemics, about the chromosomes of development - and about the conflicts that inhibit them.

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(c) Christoph Püschner

The price isn’t everything

By Bettina Rühl

In Togo’s capital, Lomé, home-grown rice costs almost twice as much as the imported product from Thailand. Yet there are good reasons for preferring the local product

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(c) Simon Veith

The Big Bang is possible

Interview with Joachim von Braun

Happy youngsters in rural areas, green development and the connection to the digital age – professor Joachim von Braun believes in this future sceneraio for Africa. For three decades the agricultural scienties has been researching how politics can create prosperty on the continent. 

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(c) Simon Veith

A fresh opportunity

Interview with Lutz Hartmann

By leasing a three hundred hectare fruit plantation in Ethiopia, Lutz Hartmann has realised a long-cherished dream: to run his own business in Africa. Now he has a personal interest in the issue of Africa’s development.

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Ebay Against Hunger - How an App Supports Crop Sale of Rural Small Holders in Zambia

Small holders around the world are often forced to sell their harvests below market value due to a lack of market and pricing information. A new app by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is going to change this.

A project of WFP

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(c) Foto Privat

Story: In Blocked Chains We Trust

A contribution by Solomon King Benge

It is 2080. We are on a farm somewhere in Africa. Everything is digital. The blockchain is an omnipotent point of reference, and the farm is flourishing. But then, everything goes wrong. A dystopian short story, written exclusively for SEWOH.

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Do we have to dare a new food system?

A contribution by Dr. Felix zu Löwenstein (BÖLW)

Lack of seasonal workers and virus explosion in slaughterhouses, rising vegetable prices, climate crisis – all this demonstrates: Our food system is highly productive and (at least for the rich inhabitants of planet earth) guarantees an unprecedented rich and steady food supply - but it is not resilient.

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Frank Schultze / Agentur_ZS

Visions in agriculture

Video by Frank Schultze and Jan Rübel

At the beginning of December 2018, AGRA's board of directors met in Berlin. The "Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa" ​​panel discussed the next steps in their policy of modernizing agriculture. How to go on in the next ten years? One question - many answers from experts.

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"Soy can be made into more than just flour"

A report by Johanna Steinkühler (GIZ)

The soybean is a natural crop that can be used to make a lot of food. So, Tata Bi started a small processing business first on her own, then with a few other women, which provides the women with an additional source of income year-round besides selling the soybeans.

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Global responsibility: Tackling hunger is the only way forward

A contribution by Lisa Hücking (WHH)

Chancellor Merkel has begun an ambitious European political programme: Striving for compromise in budget negotiations, an orderly Brexit as well as an appropriate response to the corona crisis. Unfortunately, one of her positions that she previously held is nowhere to be found: Africa's prosperity is in the interest of Europe. 

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Africa's face of agriculture is female

A contribution by Beatrice Gakuba (AWAN-AFRIKA)

Africa has a huge opportunity to make agriculture its economic driver. However, the potential for this is far from being made exhaustive use of, one reason being that women face considerable difficulties in their economic activities. The organisation AWAN Afrika seeks to change this state of affairs.

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(c) Michael Bruentrup/DIE

News from the starting block: Changeover

A contribution by Michael Brüntrup (DIE)

The region of Sub-Saharan Africa is on the decisive verge of a great development boost in farming: it could skip entire generations of technological development. But how? About possible roles and potentials of digital services.

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Can we win the race against deforestation?

Interview with Bernadette Arakwiye und Salima Mahamoudou (World Resources Institute)

Deforestation is leading to a shortage of ressources. What are the options for counteracting? A conversation with Bernadette Arakwiye and Salima Mahamoudou about renaturation and the possibilities of artificial intelligence.

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Mr. Marí, what happened at the alternative summit?

An Interview with Francisco Marí (Brot für die Welt)

Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) did not attend the UNFSS pre-summit. Instead, the organisation took part in a counter-summit that took place at the same time. A conversation with Francisco Marí about the reasons, the process - and an outlook for the future

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