By Prudence Wanko

In order to see fisheries reborn, West African States must take up their responsibility to eradicate all forms of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, including a practice which is slowly killing a collapsing sector: the underreporting of Gross Tonnage (GT)!

Rarely mentioned when discussing IUU fishing, under-reporting of the gross tonnage of some industrial vessels is a disguised form of fraud which is practiced along the West Africa Coast. Under-declaring the vessel GT falls within the definition of illegal fishing[1] in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) International Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing.

This is an addition to the long list of other forms of IUU fishing: fishing in prohibited areas, hidden identity …etc. And it is an additional threat to fish stocks and the people who depend on fishing for their livelihood and food security!

In Senegal, Guinea and Guinea Bissau, Chinese fishing companies and some joint ventures (e.g China-Senegal) have  practiced this form of “stealing fish” since the 1980s.. They have been able to cover this form of cheating for almost 30 years. This means, where Chinese fishing vessels are involved, it takes time to unmask them and to repair the damage! Damage, which is incredibly, difficult to qualify and quantify!

On one hand, under-reporting of gross tonnage allows these vessels to pay lower license fees to countries where they operate, creating a shortfall in the  states’ treasury. A shortfall  that could have helped to build schools, hospitals, roads ... and other infrastructure in these countries, which are ever looking for ways to come out of under development.

On the other hand, by under-reporting their gross tonnage, these industrial vessels have access to fishing areas reserved for artisanal fishermen, as it is the case in Senegal. They compete for the same fish stocks with the artisanal fishermen and force them to move away from the coast to fill their nets.

In its report, "Scam on the African Coast" The hidden Face of Chinese and joint-venture vessels Tonnage Fraud in Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Guinea"Greenpeace Africa calls on the states of West Africa in general and Senegal, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau, in particular, to taking this issue on and taking measures to eradicate this form of fishing that jeopordises the  future for the oceans off the west coast of Africa, and the thousands of people who depend on it.

In order to see fisheries reborn, it's time to clean the mess not only by fighting  IUU fishing, but especially by giving preferential access  to those who fish sustainably, who respect local and international legislations and do not cause any damage to the environment.

[1] Section II, point 3.1 Illegal fishing refers to activities:

3.1.1 Conducted by national or foreign vessels in waters under the jurisdiction of a State, without the permission of that State, or in contravention of its laws and regulations.