Vessels arrested for illegally fishing in West African waters are still carrying on with business as usual, according to a Greenpeace Africa report released this week.

The Cost of Ocean Destruction details how West African fishermen and communities continue to suffer from the consequences of over-fishing and illegal fishing.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has raised concerns about the repercussions of stock depletion due to over-fishing on food security and the economy of West Africa, where around seven million people are part of the value chain and rely on fish for income and employment, while many millions more depend on fish as a source of animal protein. It is estimated that around 300,000 jobs have been lost in the artisanal sectors due to a lack of policies that protect both fisheries and livelihoods.

It is estimated that around 40 percent of all fish caught in West African waters are caught illegally, and around 54 percent of the region's fish stocks are over-fished

Pavel Klinckhamers, project leader in Greenpeace Netherlands, said: “The current situation in West Africa is a result of decades of over-fishing and inaction, but it is also a result of commitments from West African governments and foreign fishing nations, like China, South Korea and the E.U., that were simply never translated into reality. Coastal communities are the ones paying the price and they cannot wait any longer. African states and foreign fishing nations in the region have to change course and put in place the policies that these communities need in order to survive.” 

In only 20 days, Greenpeace and fisheries inspectors from Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Senegal came across 17 vessels contravening applicable rules, and 11 of these vessels were arrested for infractions which included involvement in illegal transshipment, fishing in breach of their license conditions, using illegal nets and shark finning. However, only six months later, all 17 vessels are still licensed to fish in West African waters. 

One of the main fishing players in the region, China, is currently conducting a revision of its Provisions for the Administration of Distant Water Fishery. The review will include new sanctions for IUU fishing, however it is still crucial to ensure transparency, effective implementation and the strengthening and effective enforcement of punishment measures by coastal West African countries when vessels break the law, says Klinckhamers. 

Last month, China signed long term fisheries agreements with Sierra Leone and Mauritania, and the E.U. is working on a fisheries agreement with Guinea Bissau. Reportedly, Senegal and Russia are also holding conversations around reintroducing Russia’s industrial fishing fleet which was kicked out of Senegal back in 2012. 

 “West African countries keep signing new and opaque fishing agreements with foreign countries without putting in place the means to monitor their activities and sufficiently take the interests of local small-scale fishermen into account,” Klinckhamers said. 

Greenpeace says that African states they need to manage shared resources jointly and ensure priority is given to the labor intensive, small-scale sector. This sector directly employs one million people. Foreign fishing nations to ensure their fleets do not undermine the sustainability of fisheries in the countries they operate in.

Greenpeace is calling upon West African governments, as well as nations fishing in or importing seafood from the region, to stand together to protect millions of Africans against the use of industrial fishing fleets. Greenpeace is also calling for authorities to provide follow-up information on fishing vessels and crews that were arrested during a joint patrol by Greenpeace and African fisheries inspectors last spring.