Durban fisheries officers call for systematic interagency cooperation to fight IUU fishing

By Stop Illegal Fishing:7th Feb, 2024:

From 30 January to 02 February 2024, SIF and the MCSCC went to Durban to conduct a risk assessment training workshop as part of the project SADC Atlantic. After a first focus on Cape Town in the first year of the project, SADC Atlantic is now taking on the additional objective to build the capacities of fisheries compliance officers to address risks of IUU fishing linked to fishing vessels and their operators coming to the port of Durban. To fight this multi-facetted and complex challenge, Durban’s fisheries officers also invited other agencies to the meeting – an eye-opening opportunity for the representatives from maritime safety, police and customs, which raised awareness on the critical role played by every agency and on the importance of regional cooperation to tackle IUU fishing successfully.

“You will see, things will change” – if Maria Eulália Vales is so optimistic about the future, it is because she knows how powerful regional cooperation to tackle IUU fishing can be. As the Head of the Interim Project Management Unit (IPMU) of the SADC Regional Monitoring Control and Surveillance Coordination Centre (MCSCC), she continuously sensitises SADC countries about the importance of cooperating and sharing information on fishing activities, to keep illegal fishing vessels and their operators out of the region’s waters. One key objective of the SADC Atlantic project is to strengthen the engagement of South Africa – as well as the other Atlantic countries of Angola and Namibia – in the MCSCC. One year after the beginning of the project, there are reasons to be optimistic; following a training and ongoing mentoring provided by the project team in Cape Town, fisheries compliance officers have made significant progress in conducting risk assessments and inspections of foreign fishing vessels. They have also become more confident in their actions and in their knowledge of the legislation – and their engagement in the SADC MCSCC has been growing.

After Cape Town, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) of South Africa expressed the need to build the capacities of Fisheries Compliance Officers (FCOs) in Durban. However, because IUU fishing involves interconnected aspects, including crimes such as drug trafficking – a growing issue in the port of Durban – fisheries compliance officers cannot act alone. To tackle this complex challenge, the fisheries authorities invited representatives from other agencies that play a critical role in addressing IUU fishing to participate in the meeting – including the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), the police, and customs. “We are the authority for all ships entering South African ports, but not experts in fisheries. It is very important for us to understand what fisheries officers do”, said the representative of SAMSA as he closed the meeting. Over only three days of workshop, the 20 representatives from the various agencies have learnt a lot from each other and expressed the wish to make cooperation systematic.  One of their key recommendations: elaborate and approve Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for interagency cooperation, as well as SOPs for all different processes that can minimise risks of IUU fishing, including SOPs for risk assessments and inspections.

This workshop is the first step of the support that will be provided to Durban’s officers to strengthen their capacities in addressing risks of foreign fishing vessels coming into their port. The objective is to continue putting into practice the learnings of those three days through ongoing coaching and mentoring, as the project team did with officers in Cape Town. This will include remote coaching in the conduct of inspections, thanks to a body-worn camera that was handed over to Durban’s fisheries inspectors by the US consulate in Durban during the meeting; an additional MCS tool for fisheries inspectors, which was immediately tested during a port inspection exercise in Durban.

For some of the officers from non-fisheries agencies, this was their first time on a vessel. Yet, they have now understood that fisheries officers cannot fight IUU fishing alone – and that cooperation will also be beneficial for their own work.

An encouraging first step for stronger actions against IUU fishing in South Africa and in the region – concluded Maria Eulália Vales: “It’s our resources, it’s our waters. So, let’s come together to protect our future”.

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