Illegal Fishing Rampant as West African Nations Pay Heavy Price

West African countries are almost powerless to prevent illegal fishing that is depleting stocks and robbing states of revenue, according to a fisheries expert who is visiting the region.

“In most West African countries, surveillance and monitoring is almost zero, most African countries don’t even have a single vessel, or even a small craft,” Professor Daniel Pauly, a fisheries specialist from University of British Columbia, said by phone from the Namibian town of Swakopmund.

An inability to enforce quotas results in vessels fishing well beyond licensed levels, while illegal operators exploit the resources at will in barely monitored or policed West African waters, Pauly said. Revenue from fishing, which could be reinvested into surveillance and monitoring systems, is being redirected elsewhere in the region’s economies or lost through mismanagement and corruption, he said.

“Togo, Benin, and even Nigeria do not have one single good vessel,” said Pauly, who spoke at the Global Large Marine Ecosystem Conference held in the coastal town, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Namibian capital, Windhoek. “Between 10 to 20 percent of revenue from fishing should be reinvested into the sector, but usually it’s near zero, the money isn’t there.”

Conference host nation Namibia is managing to monitor fishing in its waters, “but it can always benefit from an increase,” Pauly said.

Namibia’s fishing industry generated 5.2 billion Namibian dollars ($470 million) in revenue in 2012, contributing 3.7 percent to gross domestic product, Bernard Esau, fisheries and marine resources minister, said in March. The local catch was set at 519,606 metric tons for 2014 in an industry that employed 13,854 people last year, Esau said.

“Surveillance systems where nobody can escape are very expensive,” Pauly said. “But there is a heavy price to pay for not having surveillance systems. The country can benefit if vessels’ rule breaking can be prevented. What is needed is to balance costs against the benefits.”

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