15 January 2014 Repeat offender – the Russian factory trawler seized by Senegal

© Greenpeace

Have you heard the one about Greenpeace controlling the French Navy? No, me neither. But you might be forgiven for being confused by some recent reports about the Russian trawler seized in West Africa.

Pirate fishing is a big problem. Sometimes it’s fishing over quota (catching more than you should, or species that you shouldn’t), sometimes it’s fishing in ways or places you shouldn’t. Overfishing may seem like a victimless crime – but it isn’t, and the ultimate effect is bad news for our oceans, the creatures that live in them, and the humans whose livelihoods or future food source depends on them.

The effective regulation of our oceans is truly a global problem, made worse by the fact that so many destructive methods and levels of overfishing are perfectly legal in so many places:Dredging for scallops; bottom trawling the deep sea; long- lines with hundreds of miles of baited hooks: factory fishing for plankton, and; allowing vast floating factory trawlers to scour distant seas – all perfectly legal.

It stands to reason then perhaps that the very least we should expect of national governments is to try and make sure that those fishing in their waters play by the rules, and stick to the law. In general, pretty much everyone thinks you need to enforce the rules, right?

Well, sometimes the sheer scale of cheating, illegal fishing, or waste by those operating outside the rules can be simply staggering; and all too often that the measures taken to counter it are simply inadequate, or they penalise the innocent too.

That’s why most of the world cheered when they heard that the Government of Senegal had taken strong action against a serial offender in its own waters. The super-trawler, Oleg Naydenov, was seized by Senegalese officials after being caught fishing illegally in Senegalese waters. After being spotted by the French Navy, Senegalese officials arrested the Russian fishing vessel and took it into custody in the port of Dakar.

Oddly, the Russian government has tried to suggest this is part of a Greenpeace campaign of retribution, and that Greenpeace has the Senegalese government doing its bidding. Perhaps they also think that the French Navy is at Greenpeace’s disposal too? (Though in truth they are more likely to be the ones boarding our ships)

Whilst these claims are clearly spurious and intended to deflect attention from the real problem, Greenpeace has a history in this area and with this vessel.

The Oleg Naydenov is a monsterboat, at 108metres long it is a floating factory. In 2012 Greenpeace took our ship, the Arctic Sunrise, to the waters of West Africa to document, expose and confront the massive trawlers stealing the fish from those seas, and depriving entire communities of livelihoods. That trip is well documented by us, and a number ofjournalists from different countries. During our trip we encountered a host of monsterboats, from many different countries – including Germany, the Netherlands, UK and yes, Russia. In fact we found the Oleg Naydenov itself, fishing illegally with its name covered up by a tarpaulin, and we branded it clearly with the words ‘PLUNDER’ and ‘PILLAGE’ in paint.

The ship tour was only part of our work, and only part of the story. Greenpeace also worked with coastal fishing communities across West Africa, and especially in Senegal where we helped them to have their voices heard by politicians and decision makers. It was the plight of those fishing communities that led to a newly elected president revoking the licences of foreign trawlers, a measure that local fishermen soon saw the benefits of in their catches.

Greenpeace has a long and proud history of campaigning against destructive fishing, if we had encountered the Oleg Naydenov again breaking the rules, you can bet we would be shouting about it. The fact is that this time, it was caught out by someone else – and both the French Navy and Senegalese government should be praised for taking action on illegal fishing. 

Our campaign work goes on, but we need more than Greenpeace to step up to challenge the monsters plundering our seas. The sheer scale of fishing by these vast vessels embodies the unsustainable excesses of global overfishing - they certainly can’t be allowed to flout the rules too! We need your support, and we need governments to step up too, both in policing their waters, but also controlling the boats flying their flag. Coastal communities, healthy seas and the future of food for so many depend on it.