Sierra Leone intensifies war against illegal fishing trawlers
A combined marine operation against unlicensed fishing by Sierra Leone Navy and Sea Shepherd Global led to the arrest of four fishing vessels engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the West African country’s inshore exclusion zone (IEZ).
Two of the arrested vessels – Liao Dan Yu 6616 and Liao Dan Yu 6618 – were Chinese-flagged and had no fishing license, according to Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd Campaign Director Captain Peter Hammarstedt said after the arrest of the two Chinese-flagged vessels, “the remaining 11 vessels belonging to the same fleet all set course for Freetown to avoid inspections.”
“Vessels from other fleets also retreated to safe harbor when they received news that a patrol was underway and it is the belief of Sea Shepherd and the Sierra Leone Navy that none of them had valid fishing licenses,” he said.
The other two arrested vessels were Friendship 806 and Friendship 888, which were both confronted in waters saturated with small-scale fishing pirogues approximately one nautical mile inside the exclusive economic zone.
“Both trawlers were fishing without a license and were transmitting false electronic identifying information. One of them was appropriating the identity of another vessel fishing over 7,000 nautical miles away in the Pacific Ocean,” Sea Shepherd said.
Separately, another fishing vessel engaged in IUU, Jianmei 3 – – whose two sister vessels, Jianmei 1 and Jianmei 4, were arrested for similar offenses in 2020 but absconded from detention – was nabbed at anchor off the port of Kent on the Freetown Peninsula by the joint Sea Shepherd and Sierra Leone Navy at-sea operation.
The vessel had previously been documented to have been fishing six nautical miles inside the IEZ, “just outside a marine protected area designated to conserve spawning fish.”
Sea Shepherd said the biggest headache for local fishers is inadequacies in monitoring, control, and surveillance. The illegally fishing trawlers “routinely run over their canoes and nets" and "fish populations also decline" as a result of the illegal fishing activity, the group said.
“The arrest of five trawlers in the waters of Sierra Leone marks the start of Operation Sierra Leone Coastal Defense, Sea Shepherd’s eighth government partnership on the continent of Africa,” Sea Shepherd said. The organization has boosted the at-sea patrols by the Sierra Leone Navy in the war against IUU by providing both crew and the organization’s vessel Bob Barker.
“These five arrests send the strong message that if you are caught fishing without a license, then you will be arrested by the Sierra Leone Navy and you will be prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law,” Sierra Leone Defense and National Security Minister Kellie Coneth said.
With Sierra Leone's losses to IUU estimated at USD 29 million (EUR 24.1 million) annually, Coneth has vowed to “act decisively against any violators of Sierra Leone’s sovereign laws.”
Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd