Challenges for MCS in the Western African Region

By Stop Illegal Fishing:26th Nov, 2021: Event Coverage

A virtual panel discussion examining the challenges for monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) in the Western African Region, organised by the independent policy research institute IDDRI, took place on 23 November 2021. The webinar focused on the important efforts towards MCS of fishing activities in the exclusive economic zones of Western Africa, and the particular challenges and gaps in addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ).

The Western African region, between Mauritania and South Africa, is a highly biologically productive marine area, with three large marine ecosystems (LME) and an important seamount chain fostering abundant marine biodiversity. This leads to strong fishing pressure, particularly from industrial vessels. IUU fishing is present in the region, depleting fish stocks, affecting States’ revenues and threatening local communities. The region also suffers from piracy and related attacks at sea, as well as the trafficking of weapons, drugs, people and exotic animals.

MCS of human activities is therefore critical in efficiently managing both national and international waters of the region. MCS can be described as a wide range of tools, technologies and policies to ensure the sustainable management of marine resources. It includes data collection and reporting, licensing, observer programmes and electronic surveillance systems, regulations and sanctions, and enforcement actions.

The panel was chaired by Julien Rochette, Ocean Programme Director, IDDRI.

Dyhia Belhabib, Fisheries Programme Manager, Ecotrust Canada, stressed the significance of fisheries as a source of food and livelihoods in Western Africa. She noted that despite the poor availability of data on fisheries information on the sector reveals the imbalance of power between the industrial and artisanal fleets, with the industrial fleet, comprising under 1,000 licensed vessels, makes up 1% of the effort responsible for 75% of the catch.

Analysis of these 862 authorised industrial vessels reveals further cause for concern with:

  • 162 have multiple licences across the region
  • 197 domesticated (locally flagged, foreign owned)
  • 270 vessels linked to criminal activity
  • 287+ vessels repeat offenders (have committed offences twice or more)

Klaudija Cremers, Research Fellow, IDDRI, shared key findings from the newly published report, Options for Strengthening Monitoring, Control and Surveillance of Human Activities in the Southeast Atlantic Region. Common challenges identified include poor governance, unresolved claims of jurisdiction, lack of awareness and understanding of IUU, capacity and political will. Cross-sectoral cooperation is also shared challenge and despite many initiatives to address this across the region continues to undermine MCS efforts as data is not shared and best practices are not followed.

Sandy Davies, Stop Illegal Fishing, outlined some of the MCS challenges posed by COVID-19. These include the difficulties around travel, reduced human capacity, and restrictions on access to vessels for inspections. Some initiatives have been successfully developed to counter COVID constraints, including the use of body worn cameras to provide remote involvement and support to frontline inspection officers.

Godfrey Baidoo-Tsibu, Coordinator, FCWC-PESCAO Regional MCS Centre (RMCSC) explained how the newly established FCWC RMCSC is addressing MCS challenges by centralising a regional vessel monitoring system (VMS) to track activity of flagged and licensed vessels. The Centre also plays an important role in collecting, analysing and sharing information and contributing to regional tools such as the Regional Record of Authorised Vessels and through the establishment of a regional observer programme.

Discussion focussed on the benefits of regional cooperation as a key means of building transparency, maximising limited resources and developing skills and tools to fight IUU. Sandy Davies commented, “When countries work together, they have a super power! It gives them the power to drive the agenda and decide what is important for their countries and people and to drive an African agenda.”

This public webinar organized by IDDRI in the framework of the STRONG High Seas project aimed to give an overview of the situation of MCS in ABNJ in the Western African region, highlighting existing challenges and needs and presenting best practice examples can be viewed here.

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