On the bridge of the Arctic Sunrise, it is not hard to see what the problem in West African waters is. On the radar, within a range of 20 nautical miles, I see the little blips of nine super trawlers.
They are fishing the West African waters, but not in the average way: these super trawlers is huge, with length beyond 100 metres, trawl with nets several hundred meters long with openings up to 50 meters, and can catch up to 250 tons of fish per day. All this while local fishermen see their catches decrease.
These huge fishing vessels stay at sea for weeks, freezing their catch and transferring the load to support vessels while at sea. The enormous amount of fish that they extract from the sea has a devastating impact on the ecosystem in West African waters.
The fish stocks are declining and local small scale fisherman are struggling to compete with these floating fish factories; there is simply not enough fish for everyone.
The fishing practices of these super trawlers are exploitive and in some cases, even illegal. The 120 metre long “Oleg Naydenov“ is one example of the enormous foreign fleet which is overfishing West Africa’s waters.
Last week, we encountered this giant Russian trawler at around 25 nautical miles from Gambian waters, fishing illegally in waters under Senegalese jurisdiction.
Things went quickly on this very day. We spotted this strangely behaving trawler: the markings were not visible – everything was hidden behind sheets. AIS was switched off, no signal at all. Our radar couldn’t find any information that could help to identify it.
Since I am aware that Gambia has no private fishing agreements with the Russians, and having detected the presence of the Russian flag (which they could not hide) and the blue colour (recognized for their vessels), we had the feeling that there was something irregular. We decided to look closer and the wind revealed the trap that covered the call signal and allowed us to read and identify the vessel. It was the almighty “Oleg Naydenov”, which has been in Senegalese waters since 2010.
Not that they are only emptying our waters, but also they show a tremendous lack of respect for our fishing laws. In order to make this visible, we marked the Russian vessel as one of the devastating foreign super trawlers, which are plundering West Africa’s waters, by painting “Pillage and Plunder” on the hull of the vessel. Furthermore, we informed the Gambian authorities and some hours later a patrol boat was sent to this area.
And that’s exactly the reason why we are here – to document and expose what’s going on in Senegalese waters, make it public and thereby bring about a change for the better.
We are campaigning for the establishment of a sustainable, low-impact fisheries policy that takes into account the needs and interests of small-scale fishermen and the local communities that depend on healthy oceans. Future leaders of Senegal have to break the Machiavellian momentum for the selling off of national marine heritage and stop the foreign fleets fishing away Africa’s future.