West African countries in the Gulf of Guinea have stepped up the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and related crimes with the creation of a regional center to coordinate their fisheries management.
The countries of Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria, through Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC) – an intergovernmental organization that promotes cooperation in fisheries management among them – has launched the Regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Center (RMCSC) to monitor fishing and related activities in the Gulf of Guinea.
The center has been equipped with vessel-tracking systems, and has the capacity to collect data on authorized fishing vessels across the region to support the eradication of IUU fishing.
“The countries have several shared fish stocks and identified a need for fisheries enforcement cooperation and shared management of these resources,” FCWC said in a statement.
The organization attributes persistent IUU fishing and associated crime, both within the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the Gulf of Guinea and high seas, to existing loopholes and weaknesses in international enforcement capacity and law that illegal operators exploit to perpetrate their activities.
Some of the loopholes perpetrators take advantage of include “vessel flag- and name-jumping, use of shell companies, exploitation of low-income countries, and crimes outside of fisheries law, such as document forgery and crew exploitation,” FCWC said.
With the launch of the RMCSC, the countries in the Gulf of Guinea will be able to integrate and coordinate the existing, but haphazardly enforced, approaches to the investigations of fisheries crimes, FCWC said. The center will enable “coordinated approaches to joint action, including patrols for better security in the maritime domain of West Africa," it said.
The new center will be integrated within the framework of the FCWC West Africa Task Force, which is financed by the Norwegian Agency for International Development (NORAD). The center will also get technical support from Trygg Mat Tracking, which has distinguished itself in providing national fisheries authorities and international organizations with expert fisheries intelligence and analysis, to back up enforcement actions against IUU, FCWC said.
Additional support for the FCWC has come from Stop Illegal Fishing, an independent nonprofit based in Africa dedicated to ending IUU fishing in the region.
Countries in the Gulf of Guinea now have an opportunity through the RMCSC to strengthen “the information-sharing and cooperation between them and also strengthen the interagency cooperation at the national level in addition to the enforcement actions triggered by intelligence analysis and intelligence-sharing," the group said.