In recent years, fishermen off the African coast have been resorting to the use of dynamite and other explosives to yield a more productive catch. Such extreme practices cause grave harm to coral reefs, other sea creatures, and juvenile fish. The practice is becoming commonplace off the coast of places such as Tanzania, where over 300 explosions were observed in just 30 days. While dynamite fishing causes long term damage not only to environment, but to the local economy as well, it is all too appealing to desperate would-be fishermen. All they need is a plastic bottle and some dynamite, which in places like Tanzania is more easily acquired than traditional fishing equipment such as basket traps and hooks and lines. A mining boom in the region has made dynamite especially easy to find for locals. Unfortunately, these advantages make dynamite fishing an appealing way to make a living even in the face of long term consequences.
Dynamite fishing is just one of the many harmful method used by illegal fisherman to increase their yields. Fishing vessels are subject to taxes and regulations depending on the laws of their home country. Countries such as Panama, Liberia, and the Marshall Islands serve as “registration havens”, with more than sixty percent of shippers claiming these countries as their nationalities. Flying these “flags of convenience” allows vessels to evade higher taxes and more stringent regulations in their actual home countries. Additionally, these nations tend not to enforce environmental, safety, and labor regulations, leading to poor working conditions and accidents.
In order to counter the scourge of illegal fishing, a UN-backed treaty came into effect on June 5th. The Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) seeks to mitigate the damage from such practices, largely by empowering the “port state” to request certain actions be taken by the “flag state”, especially when a vessel has been determined to be involved in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities. Foreign flagged ships must undergo document and cargo checks before harboring at a port. Such measures are sorely needed, as IUU fishing activities are currently estimated to account for 11 million tons of fish annually, threatening fish stocks around the globe.
Africa is a main hub for such unregulated fishing, with experts estimating that a full half of all fishing ignores international regulations. West Africa alone loses $1.3 billion a year to IUU fishing, and misses out on an estimated $3.3 billion a year by selling fishing rights to foreign fleets. Up to a quarter of West African jobs are related to fishing, so these nations have much to lose from IUU fishing on their shores. Senegal lost $320 million in 2015, equaling nearly 2 percent of GDP. Sierra Leone is losing 29 million annually, equivalent to 10 percent of its education budget.
Guinea has become a hotspot for Chinese trawlers looking for yellow croaker, a fish which has been overfished to extinction in Chinese waters due to its status as one of the most valued fish in Asia. These Chinese vessels are frequently ‘bottom trawlers’, ships which scrape the bottom of the sea, killing coral and oyster beds only to throw back up to 90 percent of their catch already dead. Chinese fishermen illegally use these vessels to compete with the local population – who use traditional fishing canoes and depend entirely on fish for their livelihoods. The trawlers moved in when the government’s resources were caught up in dealing with the Ebola outbreak, and continue operating there today. Local fishermen who used to earn catches valued between 700 and 1400 dollars are now making about 140 dollars for a catch.
Farther afield, on Africa’s East coast, Mozambique’s fight with IUU fishing was so severe that it had to create an entire institutional structure to root it out. EMATUM was set up to buy 20 coast guard vessels and protect its fish-dependent coastal population from starvation, MAM was put in charge of developing a homegrown shipbuilding industry while Proindicus was used to monitor its exclusive economic zone. The move has been lauded by groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, since not only does it protect the local fishing-dependent population, but it also protects fish stocks and the environment. However, the expense has nearly bankrupted Mozambique, who now must convince international creditors that it had no choice as IUU fishing was draining it of $35 million in revenues every year.
So far, 34 countries in total have ratified the PSMA, including six African nations. Measures such as the PSMA allow action to be taken against destructive illegal fishing practices, which benefits the local economy as well as reducing long term environmental threats. The main selling point of the PSMA is that it allows the burden of regulation and enforcement to fall on the home port nation of a vessel, instead of the often struggling nations where IUU fishing actually takes place. It is imperative to take action against IUU fishing, since it threatens the world’s most vulnerable populations whose governments have few resources with which to combat the problem.