West Africa Task Force holds its 13th meeting

By Stop Illegal Fishing:14th Nov, 2022: West Africa Task Force

The thirteenth meeting of the West Africa Task Force (WATF) was held in Cotonou, Benin, on 8 – 10 November 2022. At the occasion of this bi-annual meeting of the Task Force, Fisheries Directors and Heads of Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) from the Fisheries Commission for the West Central Gulf of Guinea’s (FCWC) Member States gathered to exchange on progress made to advance the goal of the West Africa Task Force: contributing to more effective governance of regional fisheries resources through a reduction of illegal fishing. Together with the WATF’s technical members, Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF) and Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT), as well as partner organisations, this meeting was the occasion to discuss the way forward and the sustainable anchorage of the WATF at the ECOWAS level.

The 13th meeting of the WATF was hosted by the Republic of Benin, where Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing are high on the agenda. The high importance of IUU issues for Benin and the growing scarcity of fish reported by local fishers were highlighted by the Deputy Director of Cabinet of the Ministry, Mr. Abdoulaye Doko, as he opened the meeting on behalf of the Minister of Fisheries Agriculture, Livestock and Aquaculture and Fisheries, H.E. Gaston Dossouhoui,

The 13th meeting of the WATF coincided with the end of the 2nd phase of the project supported by Norwegian Development Agency (NORAD), which enabled to establish the Task Force. After two phases of project and successful synergies with other projects like the Programme for Regional Fisheries Governance (PESCAO), results are tangible: the West Africa Task Force (WATF) has played a major role in operationalising key FCWC conventions on information sharing and Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) cooperation within Member States. The way forward for the WATF now focusses on strengthening these results and supporting a sustainable anchorage of the regional mechanisms set up to support good fisheries governance at the regional level, including the Regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) Centre based in Tema, Ghana.

Good fisheries governance and the fight against unsustainable fishing activities are high on the agenda of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This importance was highlighted by Mr. Amadou Tall, representing Alain Sy Traoré, Director for agriculture and rural development at the ECOWAS Commission. During the meeting, Mr. Tall announced measures to allocate funds for a sustainable functioning of the FCWC, underlining the commitment of the ECOWAS Commission to combat IUU fishing and ensuring sustainable resource management. The meeting was the occasion to present and discuss a strategy elaborated to address the institutional priorities of the FCWC, including a sustainable finance mechanism. The proposed strategy was adopted and will be presented at the next conference of Minister of the FCWC Member States. The presence of ECOWAS as well as representatives from neighbouring States (Sierra Leone, Cameroon) and West-African institutions beyond the FCWC, like the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission based in Senegal, highlighted the vision of the FCWC to support interregional cooperation beyond the borders of FCWC Member States. The presence of those representatives was the occasion to celebrate a partnership agreement (MoU) concluded between ECOWAS, FCW and the SRFC to with the aim to strengthen cooperation on adopting measures to fight IUU fishing along the West African coast.

The WATF’s 13th meeting offered an opportunity for the WATF technical team to present and discuss specific issues and activities of relevance for Member States, including the results of an MCS capacity assessment conducted in the FCWC region. Based on a methodology designed by Stop Illegal Fishing and in cooperation with Member States, this capacity assessment could be used by Member States as a regular monitoring tool.

Updates were also provided on the activities of the regional MCS Center, including a presentation on the progress made regarding the development of Standard Operational Procedures (SOP), which are still essentially lacking for the FCWC countries, as highlighted by the MCS capacity assessment.

During information sessions, the technical team members also steered discussions on the IUU risks associated with flagging patterns of fishing vessels and opaque beneficial ownership. They also presented the recently developed FAO transhipment guidelines, opening discussions on the adaptation of the guidelines to the region, in line with the transhipment strategy developed by the FCWC before the consultation conducted by the FAO. The meeting was also the occasion to present the results of a study conducted on the risks of IUU fishing linked to fish imports to Nigeria. Nigeria being a major importer of fish, the findings of this study were seen as critical by all Member States as well as ECOWAS and will be used as key recommendations to address some of the identified gaps.

The meeting was concluded by the positive news that further support would be provided by NORAD in a third project phase, adapting priorities based on the achievements of the first two phases. This project will amongst others integrate key issues related to IUU fishing, including the question of decent conditions for fisheries workers. The continued commitment of NORAD was welcomed by the Member States as it will contribute to consolidate and further ensure the sustainability of the WATF. This is in line with the vision of the FCWC, as highlighted by its Secretary General, Mr. Séraphin Dédi “WATF is no longer a project, it has become part of the FCWC”.

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