Vessel flag loopholes leave door open for IUU fishing in Africa

The number of fishing vessels operating under African flags to evade effective oversight as they engage in illegal fishing continues to rise, a new report by TM-Tracking found.

The report, published by the Norwegian non-profit organization TM-Tracking and a group of experts under IR Consilium, found that the health of African fisheries, coupled with the limited enforcement capacity of governments in the region, make Africa an “ideal location for high-risk fishing operators”. .” An analysis of fishing operations and cases of illegal fishing by TM-Tracking revealed that perpetrators of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are tapping into the $194 billion ($184 billion) global fishing market. euros) without any “significant restriction or management oversight”. ”

The report identified two high-risk reporting processes being abused in the region: flags of convenience and “flagging”. Through flags of convenience, fishers use registries opened in certain countries to fish beyond national jurisdiction, and through the flag, foreign owned and operated vessels exploit local rules to access African national registries and fish. in African waters.

“Both of these processes make it easier for high-risk foreign fishing operators to fish illegally and unsustainably, which in turn undermines the sovereign rights of African coastal states,” the report said.

The majority of African coastal states have vessels flying their flag that later engaged in illegal activities, according to IUU lists and national news sources.

“There is probably no continent that suffers more from the deleterious effects of IUU fishing – on food security, food sovereignty, marine environmental sustainability and the rule of law – than Africa,” said said IR Consilium CEO Ian Ralby. “African states should have exclusive control over the resources of their own territory and full control over how foreign entities can use their name and reputation to interfere with the resources of other countries.”

Securing African waters for the legitimate and sustainable enrichment of coastal states requires governments on the continent to ensure that high-risk fishing operations and vessels are barred from national flags, the report says. He called for greater inter-agency cooperation on decisions to flag fishing vessels. In this way, “flagged vessels can be effectively managed, benefit from appropriate oversight and be integrated into national fisheries management plans”.

While African states can exercise control over their own open vessel registries, the report notes that “only an international effort will help reduce the use of foreign open vessel registries to facilitate the conduct of IUU fishing operations in Africa and beyond”.

Other measures to remove high-risk vessels from flag states include effective due diligence for all flag applications, closing open vessel registers to fishing vessels and strengthening monitoring of the involvement of private companies in ship registers – as many companies that maintain open registers can do so. make decisions without any consultation, or with very limited consultation, with the flag state, according to the report.

Bad actors should be removed from the flag to avoid damaging their reputations and to show their commitment to the rule of law, the report further recommends. The reflagging should be accompanied by strengthening enforcement and compliance requirements, establishing and enforcing sanctions for the flag State, and creating channels of communication and cooperation with beneficial beneficiary states.

“International monitoring by experts and operators around the world is needed to combat the exploitation of the Open Vessel Registry and continuously identify and expose new tactics used to pursue impunity,” the report said.

For Africa to effectively protect its sovereignty and diminish IUU fishing opportunities on the continent and globally, control of African flags must be reclaimed and made less accessible to high-risk operators, said TMT executive director Duncan Copeland.

“Every fishing vessel must have a flag, and every flag state must effectively manage those fishing vessels,” Copeland said. “Ensuring that high-risk fishing operators and vessels cannot enter a flag registry or fishing grounds is one of the simplest and most cost-effective measures any nation can take to reduce the risk of illegal fishing, unsustainable fishing practices and reputational damage.

Photo courtesy of TM-Tracking