West Africa: Illegal Fishing Costs West African Nations Billions in Revenue

Fishing trawlers
31 May 2023

Cape Town — Six West African nations lose U.S. $2.3 billion a year as a result of illegal fishing, says a new report from Amnesty International.

The human rights group names Gambia, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone as the countries in the regions whose economies are damaged by the practice.

The report, which focusses in particular on abuses in Gambia, examines the operations of fishmeal and fish oil factories  and the damage caused by foreign-owned industrial trawlers.

Its release comes as the Gambian media has also highlighted the issue in reports on a forum hosted by the country's Ministry of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters, and soon after the Outlaw Ocean project published a video report on the problem.

The Amnesty report notes that fish are an essential resource for Gambians and the industry plays an important part in the economy.

"However," the report adds, "the fishing industry in the country has been subjected to increasing competing demands over the past few years, prompting overfishing with adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts. Indeed, in addition to artisanal fishermen providing fish to the community, foreign industrial trawlers and fishmeal and fish oil factories have been adding pressure to the marine resources."

The report says local fishermen complain that their nets are cut by foreign vessels fishing closer to the coast that they are allowed, and that the vessels fish in areas reserved for artisanal fishermen.

Amnesty called on the international community to regulate the fish-based feed industry to limit the use of fishmeal and fish oil made from fish that are overexploited.

"All companies in the fishmeal supply chain should also be conducting human rights due diligence, which can include public reporting about the origins of their products." Amnesty said. "Companies purchasing fishmeal should map their supply chains and analyse the human rights risks that they may be directly linked to, through their relationship with suppliers."

In a news release issued with the report, Amnesty's regional director for West and Central Africa,  Samira Daoud, called on the Gambian government and others fishing off the West African coast to ensure that foreign vessels and  factories respect fishing regulations.

"It is crucial that local communities remain able to catch fish using sustainable methods," Daoud said. "Malpractice by certain actors in the fishing industry is harming the environment and undermining people's livelihoods.

"The Gambian authorities must urgently take all necessary steps to hold them to account and protect the human rights of affected communities including their economic and social rights."

Read the executive summary of the report >>

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