At the end of February, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) sent a letter to 60 British tuna importers, raising concerns over imports that may contain illegally caught tuna from West Africa. The letter informed importers that port health officers have been instructed to increase the control of tuna imported from West Africa to ensure these products do not result from illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU) fishing activities. If this were the case, incriminated fish consignments would be rejected. DEFRA lists several concerns regarding these products, including: unlicensed fishing, reliance on fraudulent documents and breaching the recommendations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT).
Much of the evidence detailing IUU fishing operations in West Africa results from recent investigations supported or carried out by the Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF) project. On its website, SIF welcomes the action taken by the UK: ‘This move by the UK has been followed by other European countries and it demonstrates a positive response against illegal operators that will make it increasingly difficult for illegally caught fish to enter the global market – making the business of catching, transporting or trading illegal fish a less profitable venture.’
Cases of suspected IUU fishing documented by SIF – including the recent case of the fishing vessel F/V Premier belonging to the Korean multinational company Dong Won – also show there is an increasing level of cooperation among ACP coastal states to deter IUU fishing. In December 2012, upon receipt of information regarding the F/V Premier’s intent to enter port in Mauritius, Liberian authorities sent an official request to the Mauritian government for assistance and inspection of the vessel. The inspection confirmed the suspicions of illegal fishing in Liberian waters. During the inspection, authorities also found a forged Liberian fishing licence. Several countries in the Western Indian Ocean have since denied a fishing licence or the permission to offload its catches to the F/V Premier due to the ongoing IUU case in Liberia.
This case illustrates how collaboration between ACP coastal countries such as Liberia and Mauritius, the EU and its member states (as the market state in this case) and non-governmental bodies can efficiently deter IUU fishing operations. In as much as fishing companies involved in IUU fishing are generally present in several countries in a region – in the case illustrated here, Dong Won recently acquired a tuna cannery in Senegal – it may be interesting for West African countries to discuss with the EU the possibility of supporting a regional programme against IUU fishing, which would involve automatic exchange of information, improved monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS), joint operations, etc. Such a programme, funded by the EU, already exists in the Indian Ocean, with 11 ACP coastal states involved.