GLOBAL - On 20 February 2014, the Environmental Justice Foundation was announced as the Second Place Winner of the IMCS Network ‘Stop IUU Fishing Award’ for its unique system of illegal fishing alerts and community-based fisheries surveillance in Sierra Leone.
EJF works with fishing communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia to monitor vessels and record irrefutable evidence of trawlers fishing illegally in the Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ). Evidence including photographs, video and GPS coordinates of offending fishing trawlers are submitted to coastal, flag and port States to ensure vessels are sanctioned and their catch is not exported to the world’s valuable seafood markets.
Where IUU fish is identified as entering the EU seafood market, EJF’s IUU Alerts are submitted to the European Commission and Member States, who are empowered to block fishery products, investigate boats and take action against "non-cooperating" countries under the EU IUU Regulation, which came into force at the beginning of 2010.
Since January 2010, EJF has received over 275 pirate fishing incidents reported by over 25 different communities and was able to film more than 10 boats in the act of illegal fishing. As a result of evidence gathered through the community surveillance project and the transmission of IUU Alerts, the positive outcomes of the project include:
- Fines in excess of $500,000 were collected by the Sierra Leone Government.
- In March 2011, the European Commission launched the largest enforcement action since the EU IUU Regulation came into force, seizing $6 million worth of fish in the Spanish port of Las Palmas (the fish was later released but afterwards there was a significant tightening of controls in Las Palmas and other Spanish ports, and a 28 tonne consignment of fish was rejected after a subsequent EJF IUU Alert).
- Evidence collected through the project was used to “yellow card” South Korea, which could lead to a ban on imports of fish from South Korean vessels. Korea has committed to imposing new rules on vessels operating in West Africa but so far there has not been a noticeable improvement.
- Panama fined the Seta No. 73 refrigerated cargo vessel $200,000 following its transshipment with vessels documented operating illegally by the community surveillance boat.
- Artisanal fishing communities in Sierra Leone are reporting better fish catches due to the reduction in trawler incursions and increased access to their preferred fishing grounds.
The key feature of EJF’s community surveillance work in Sierra Leone is the use of simple technologies and communication, which enable coastal communities to make a new and significant contribution to both the enforcement of domestic laws and the effective implementation of the EU IUU Regulation. The fishing communities were previously ignored as a key stakeholder in the fight against illegal fishing and they had no possibility to report the violations they witnessed to any enforcement agencies. With the use of affordable cameras, GPS and mobile phones, the fishers have proven themselves to be key participants in the monitoring and reporting of illegal fishing that has contributed to the arrest, sanctions and deterrence of illegal trawlers.
It is an honour for EJF to be selected for the prestigious IMCS Network award but most importantly, it is recognition of the ongoing impacts of illegal fishing in Sierra Leone and the courageous efforts of local communities to stop it.
TheFishSite News Desk