Most of the intruders are Chinese fleets that hamper the activities of artisanal fishermen.
Distant water fishing fleets operating along the Gulf of Guinea (West and Central Africa) are exploiting less developed countries, depleting fish stocks and affecting the livelihoods of artisanal fishers, say experts.
Experts revealed this at an event hosted by the Hoover Institution on January 25.
The event titled “China’s Sharp Power in Africa (Part 2)” discussed how Africa can build more equitable relationships with its external partners, especially China.
Agnes Ebo’o, a researcher and expert in deep-sea fishing in the region, explained that deep-sea fishing has contributed to the rapid depletion of stocks and affected the livelihoods of small-scale fishers.
She noted that although they contribute greatly to the economy, the activities of artisanal fishermen have been hampered by Chinese fleets, which has hindered the growth of the sector.
“Artisanal fishing makes up a huge percentage of the region’s fishing economy. Small-scale fishermen are currently complaining about Chinese fleets and now have to go deeper, and to greater depths, to get a reasonable catch,” Ebo said. o. .
“Distant water fishing per se is not illegal and has been practiced for centuries. However, lead fishing businesses tend to become criminal, including through tax evasion, corruption and other economic crimes associated with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.”
She noted in one of her publications that richer nations are always able to acquire rights to exploit the resources of less developed nations, and the richer these rich nations become, the more they can practice fishing in distant waters. These foreign fleets do not always observe the same rules among less developed nations as they do at home or in the waters of their wealthy counterparts.
“Nevertheless, the Chinese government seems to turn a blind eye to these practices,” she added.
Another panelist, Mary Goch, director of the Catholic Radio Network, who spoke about the role of the Chinese in the oil sector in South Sudan, also said that it is the same experience in the natural resource extraction sector.
“There are opaque contracts that people don’t know about and that aren’t even published in the Official Gazette for people to read. Only the politicians who negotiated these deals with the Chinese know what’s in them. And to because of the corruption, they never want it to be open,” she said.
A decade ago, according to a master’s thesis published by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the world’s distant-water fishing fleets came from ten major fishing nations, but today China dwarfs them all, especially in the four country ; Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon and Republic of Congo. However, the number of Chinese distant water fishing (DWF) vessels has steadily increased and most complaints of illegal practices cite them. Today, China is well ahead, with an estimate of more than three thousand fleets in distant waters.
Trade policies and subsidies supporting illegal fishing
The World Trade Organization, the WTO, is currently leading negotiations to reduce harmful fisheries subsidies and find a way to achieve a more sustainable global fishing trade.
These negotiations on fisheries subsidy disciplines have been going on for almost 20 years and in the past have encouraged pirate and illegal fishing.
These subsidies can take the form of tax exemptions and infrastructure development loans or subsidies for deep-sea fishing.
It is the objective of the World Trade Organization negotiations to reduce the subsidies granted to fishermen who engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
China tops the list of harmful subsidies, followed in order of contribution by Japan, the EU, South Korea, Russia, the United States and Thailand, according to a July report. .
The way forward for West and Central African countries
First, the absence of clearly defined maritime zones weakens the ability of Gulf of Guinea countries to protect their maritime territories and creates loopholes that foreign actors can opportunistically exploit.
In his report, Ebo’o said that the lack of interest and knowledge in the maritime sector, the weakness of the judicial system and the very low investment in the countries of the Gulf of Guinea are responsible for the lack of attention paid to the sector. . Another reason is the fact that most countries in the Gulf of Guinea are oil-producing and oil-dependent, but it will take government interest and investment from international actors to diversify into marine and other resources.
“G7 countries should invest in the Gulf of Guinea fisheries sector. Although the EU has been involved in the region since 2018, it has focused more on piracy and other crimes. are also not very visible in the sector but only focuses on security and oil exploration in the region,” Ebo’o said.
“Navy patrols alone do not help small-scale fishers. It is not enough to contribute to sustainable fisheries. Civil society, media and community organizations need to know that corruption and criminality economic happen in the fisheries sector,” she said.
In particular, penalties for violations of international or national laws on overfishing or economic crimes in the fisheries sector, including tax evasion or corruption, are often limited to administrative sanctions. The Gulf of Guinea region is responsible for the sustainable use and exploitation of marine resources in its maritime spaces.
At the same time, combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a global responsibility for all nations.