NOTE: This is a guest post from Andy Hickman, Campaigner at the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
Imagine what would happen if we could all drive cars without licences or registration plates — what chaos there would be. Now imagine the chaos of fishing vessels acting off limits, under the radar.
It’s been great to receive your comments on our campaign for a Global Record of fishing vessels. Thanks to the thousands of you who have signed our petition and sent a message to the world’s fisheries ministers and policymakers that we simply cannot wait any longer for basic information about the size and capacity of each country’s fishing fleet, their ownership and their histories.
The current lack of transparency means that it is very difficult to trace fishing vessels as they change their names and their flags to avoid detection and sanctions. This is helping unscrupulous illegal fishing operators who target countries without the capacity to monitor and control their coastal waters, destroy artisanal fishmen’s nets and fish with unacceptably high levels of bycatch (the accidental capture of species including shark, turtles, sea snakes and other endangered wildlife).
Just this week, EJF has been documenting the illegal activities of an industrial trawler, destructively bottom-trawling within the Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ) of Sierra Leone in West Africa. As with many illegal vessels, it was hiding its identity by covering its name with fishing nets and it is unclear what flag the vessel is flying. We have seen this vessel before so we know its name, but ownership information is hard to come by; according to our investigations, the company listed by a shipping website as owning the vessel doesn’t even exist!
Without an easily accessible database on vessel identities, it’s virtually impossible for the Sierra Leone government to penalize law-breakers.
This vessel, and others like it, are compromising the food security and livelihoods of people in coastal communities across the world who rely on fishing and seafood for survival. They are compromising the reputation of commercial fishermen and represent unfair competition to legitimate operators. As EJF has documented, those working onboard illegal fishing vessels are often victims of human rights abuses and live and work in appalling conditions.
We are taking your signatures to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Committee on Fisheries next week with a very clear message. This situation must stop! Without basic information about fishing vessels, we stand little chance of addressing the crisis unfolding in the our oceans. With 80 per cent of fish stocks either fully exploited or overfished, we must act now. Please sign the petition and help us reach 10,000 signatures.
The Environmental Justice Foundation is a charity working to empower people who suffer most from environmental abuses to find peaceful ways of preventing them. EJF provides film and advocacy training to individuals and grassroots organisations, enabling them to document, expose and create long term solutions to environmental abuses. In Sierra Leone, EJF runs a community-based surveillance project, working with local fishing communities to identify and report on illegal trawler activity.
Photo Copyright EJF