Tag Archives: fishing

East Africans thwart illegal fishing

Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

Early in December 2012, a South Korean vessel called the Premier entered the Indian Ocean to fish. In West Africa, authorities knew that the boat had been fishing illegally in Liberian waters before it made its way to Africa’s other coast. That raised the ire of East African countries, which weren’t keen to welcome a lawbreaker into their seas. Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, the Comoros, Mozambique, and the Seychelles rapidly mobilized against the vessel, shutting it out of their ports and refusing to grant it a fishing license.

“All of a sudden, the Premier was surrounded by countries that were saying no to everything,” recalls Benedict Kiilu, a Kenyan principal fisheries officer who was part of the team that tracked the vessel at the time. In 2013, unable to land its catch, the disgraced ship was finally driven out of the region. Ultimately, it was forced to pay US$2 million to Liberia for plundering its fish.

The beating heart of this crime-busting, resource-conserving effort was FISH-i Africa, a network of countries committed to sharing fisheries intelligence that was established in 2012 by the not-for-profit Stop Illegal Fishing. Composed of the six countries that drove out the Premier, along with Madagascar and Somalia, FISH-i Africa seeks to form a united front against illegal — or “pirate” — fishing.

“It’s eight like-minded countries working together to share information and stand shoulder to shoulder where illegal fishing is concerned,” says Tony Long, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Ending Illegal Fishing Project, which provides technical support to aid FISH-i’s efforts.

Before you continue: to our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We continue only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

Because illegal fishing is unregulated — meaning catch is concealed and almost impossible to trace — it has become a major driver of overfishing. By flouting the rules designed to protect certain habitats and species, it can also undermine vulnerable ecosystems and threaten marine species. But, where attempts to fight it were once hampered by bureaucracy and snail’s-pace information sharing between countries, now they’re happening in real-time on FISH-i’s digital communications platform. Here, member countries exchange vessel license lists, news about suspect activities and details obtained during port inspections to build up a record of the vessels entering their waters.

FISH-i also closely tracks vessels’ activities on the high seas using satellite data and shares that information via the platform. This helps authorities flag vessels that may be fishing in off-limits areas, or those that betray unusual travel patterns that suggest they’re transferring fish illegally between boats.

Ideally, these investigations can reveal whether vessels have appropriate licenses, where they’ve been fishing and perhaps if they have a criminal record. Countries that wise up to illegal fishers’ transgressions then have grounds to shut their ports to these vessels so they can’t sell their catch or even to force them to pay fines, as in the case of the Premier.

“It’s a real financial loss to the [vessel’s] owner, which means illegal fishing isn’t profitable anymore. That’s really what we want to achieve,” says Per Erik Bergh, managing director of NFDS Africa, a consultancy that works to combat illegal fishing in Africa and provides support to FISH-i.

United Front

Illegal trawl nets were found aboard Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

Illegal trawl nets were found aboard Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

The platform was created to reclaim the estimated US$200 million in revenue that the eight FISH-i countries lose annually to illegal fishers invading East African waters. Home to the world’s second-most productive tuna fishery, this region attracts commercial fishing vessels from around the world, including illegal fishers — whose activities range from using false flags, fake licenses and fictitious names to fishing prohibited species and fishing in protected waters.

“In the past a vessel might be fishing illegally, and one country might say, ‘You can’t come to my port,’ whereas the next country would say, ‘Come to mine.’” – Tony LongThey’ll exploit the lack of international collaboration and take advantage of a patchy system,” says Long. “In the past a vessel might be fishing illegally, and one country might say, ‘You can’t come to my port,’ whereas the next country would say, ‘Come to mine.’” This loophole is exactly what FISH-i is now trying to close.

So far, the united front is working. Since it was founded, FISH-i has been involved in more than 30 investigations of suspect ships. It has identified criminal networks distributing fake fishing licenses in Tanzania, exposed vessels using multiple fraudulent identities and tracked down fugitive ships. Its relationship with INTERPOL, the international crime investigation agency, also enables FISH-i to widely share and receive information about pirate fishing.

“Some of the investigations we are doing are going into quite substantial organized crime networks,” says Bergh.

FISH-i’s evolving satellite detection system is also helping it get around the hurdle of illegal vessels that try to avoid discovery.

“There are very sophisticated structures illegal fishers are using to hide their operations and their locations, which is what we’re trying to deconstruct,” says Duncan Copeland, chief analyst of Trygg Mat Tracking, a not-for-profit fisheries intelligence resource that provides technical support to FISH-i. Some ships turn off their automatic identification systems, for instance, which makes them impervious to satellite tracking. Copeland is helping to build a system that combines multiple layers of information to help FISH-i pinpoint criminal ships with greater precision.

Model Program

But can FISH-i’s team of African nations have an impact on the decidedly global problem of illegal fishing? John Amos, president of the nonprofit SkyTruth, thinks so. Recently SkyTruth, Google and the marine advocacy group Oceana launched Global Fishing Watch, an open-access satellite platform that reveals the location of any trackable ship in the world.

In addition to earmarking criminals, there’s evidence that FISH-i’s activities deter crime, too. Its huge global scope has attracted widespread attention — but Amos also sees the benefit of regional efforts like FISH-i’s that home in on local waters.

“Teaming up with your neighbors to get a better operating picture of who’s doing what, where, just makes sense,” he says. “This is an opportunity for countries to get together and pool their intelligence resources, and we should be doing that at a global scale.”

In addition to earmarking criminals, there’s evidence that FISH-i’s activities deter crime, too. Whereas vessels used to fish without a license and face few consequences, now they know they’re being watched. According to Kiilu, some FISH-i countries have seen a 33 percent rise in fishing revenue as vessels purchase more licenses.

Other countries are taking note of this success. “The impact is so great that other parts of Africa are copying what we do,” says Kiilu. “We’re a specimen for study.” In West Africa, where illegal fishing usurps several hundred million dollars a year, the West Africa Task Force was formed in 2015 by six nations to combat illegal fishing — and it’s based entirely on FISH-i’s model. “There is certainly the goal to eventually see more of these task force type structures set up in other regions,” Copeland says.

Recently, FISH-i’s newest member, Somalia, had its first major triumph when in October it cornered the Greko 1 — a fake-flagged vessel that not only was fishing without a license using banned trawl nets, but also had invaded an off-limits area reserved for Somali fishers. “By taking action against the Greko 1, [Somalis] are sending a strong signal that they will act against illegal fishing,” says Bergh.

For FISH-i, it’s yet another sign of its success — proof that its unique, collaborative approach really works to protect the ocean’s natural resources across its range.


This article first appeared on Ensia, and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence. View Ensia homepage


Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , , |

Life goes on in rural Newfoundland


Bringing the sheep back from the summer community pastures on the island at Tors Cove on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore. A practice that has been going on for more than 200 years. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015


September, 2015

Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland– Travelling around Newfoundland this summer I began seeing signs of life, culture and a society I thought were lost forever.

The cod moratorium was thought to be the death of rural Newfoundland. The outports are estimated to have been emptied of more than 50,000 people. Boats, houses, property …entire villages, abandoned. Newfoundland and Labrador’s historic cod fisheries attracted local and international fishing fleets for almost five centuries before the Canadian government shut the industry down indefinitely in July, 1992. By then, once-plentiful fish stocks had dwindled to near extinction, and officials feared they would disappear entirely if the fishery remained open. The moratorium put about 30,000 people in the province out of work, and ended a way of life that had endured for generations in many outport communities.

Except … it didn’t.

On the wharfs and in the twine lofts people are living their lives and following the old ways. In Tors Cove, just a 30 minute drive south of the capital, St. John’s,  Howard Morry was bringing his sheep back from the islands where they spent the summer grazing safe from dogs and coyotes. …the way it’s been done for generations.


Community party in a fisherman’s twine loft Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

In Bay de Verde, fish were caught and parties and feasts went late into the evening. Just like the days in 1990 and 1991 when I spent all my spare time travelling the island documenting a fast disappearing culture. The sun sinks into the ocean, the moon lights the cove and the winding pathways through the village as people gather around the music and laughter from the sheds where coolers full of beer rattle with ice and deep fryers and barbecues sizzle with lobsters, crab and cod fish.

Before you continue: please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We are on an honour system and survive only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story.  Contribute below, or find details here. Thanks for your interest and support.

Old historic houses, shops and fishing buildings are being restored in once booming places like Bonavista, Fogo Island and Elliston. Towns like Eastport and Glovertown are awash in new construction and service industries.

Newfoundland has been discovered by well-heeled and adventure tourists. They paddle in expensive kayaks alongside local fishermen in the new trendy hot spots.

Sure there is gentrification in the remote bays and coves, but the old ways remain. The new comers learn how to survive from the old timers and the few young Newfoundland people who were not meant to live in the cities of western Canada.

What happens when a government abandons its people? Do they disappear? What happens when the contract, trusts and social bonds between politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and the community its suppose to serve is broken?

In the years leading up to the destruction of the cod stocks, fishermen were warning the politicians and scientists that the fish stocks were disappearing, catches abnormal and erratic. These were not the fishermen with large offshore trawlers — the high-tech fishing factories — but small-boat fishermen living in the villages who fished close to shore, immersed in fish habitat and habits.

Officialdom turned a deaf ear. The message was that stupid uneducated fishermen don’t know anything. They lack biology degrees. They are ignorant of the machinery of politics.


Fishermen from Bay de Verde, Newfoundland catching their small allocation of cod fish in Conception bay. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

More than 25 years later, Newfoundland rural culture survives in small, wise, pockets. They have learned a lot about the politics of Canada’s federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. More than they would care to, probably. The small-boat fishermen were proved right about the cod stocks.

In recent years those few still fishing are telling the politicians and scientists that cod catches are up, that the fish are the largest seen in more than 30 years.

They want to a return of a small, specialized, sustainable cod fishery for inshore fishermen and fishing communities. They are backed with science and expertise in sustainable fishing from groups as diverse as the fishermen’s union, World Wildlife Fund and independent biology and social scientists. All are working together on plans for that commercially viable, sustainable, community based fishery which the government doesn’t want to hear about it because its model is a fishing industry for a small number of large multinational food companies.

And DFO scientists, bureaucrats and politicians are still not listening.

It’s no surprise that all trust and respect has broken down between Newfoundland’s people, and the government, and scientists. And as the government, politicians and industrial fishing companies continue to abandon rural Newfoundland, it’s nice to see that the old ways are still remembered.

Life will carry on, regardless of the destruction wrought by the interlopers.



 Copyright Greg Locke 2015


Photographer and journalist Greg LockeGreg Locke is a founder and the managing partner, visual, of Facts and Opinions. He built the Facts and Opinions website, produces F&O’s photo essays, reports for Dispatches, writes and photographs Think magazine pieces, and contributes to the blogs.

Greg Locke has been a professional photographer, media producer and journalist for more than twenty-five years. Locke has covered politics, economics, energy issues, international development and civil conflicts in more than 30 countries including the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1980′s, civil wars in the Balkans and the conflicts of central and east Africa in the 1990′s. He has published three books and has been a regular contributor to Canadian Business, Canadian Geographic, Time, Businessweek, Macleans and Forbes magazines.

For more about Locke’s work you can visit his website at www.greglocke.com


Two decades of disaster: Newfoundland’s fishery, by Greg Locke

It’s a cold foggy day in the fishing village of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. Just 20 kilometers south from downtown St. John’s, it feels much further. There is not much activity or many people out and around the few remaining wharfs and twine lofts that once were buzzing hives of fishing activity ringing the harbour. Today, there are just a few frozen tourists looking to make photos of a Newfoundland that doesn’t exist anymore.


Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us with a contribution, below, of at least .27 per story, or a site pass for $1 per day or $20 per year — and by spreading the word.


Posted in Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |