European vessels are turning off their radars and disappearing in waters off the coast of The Gambia where they are suspected of illegal fishing.
Anlaise Malacki of Oceana, an organization that has been investigating the marine sector in the West African nation said the country needs sophisticated radar detectors and vessel trackers to keep an eye on those illegally fishing in Gambian waters.
Oceana’s researchers nevertheless found that vessels from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece illegally spent nearly 32,000 hours in Gambian waters.
“We tracked a Spanish registered fishing vessel for over a year and on average, the amount of time between when it turned-off and on its tracking system was about 19 days,” she said.
“For over two weeks of unaccounted activity between the Gambia and Senegal waters, we don’t know if these vessels were fishing or not; were they licensed to do so or not since vessels going dark at sea may indicate that they are trying to actively avoid detections to hide suspicious or illegal activities.”
The Gambia has been trying to engage Western companies to help track vessels illegally fishing in its waters since last year. The government has made the fishing industry a priority, urging its young people to tap into the multi-million dollar industry.
Made possible by poor monitoring capacity and, in some cases, corrupt local officials, illegal fishing costs West Africa’s coastal nations around $2.3 billion a year, according to a recent study.
Chinese fishing boats are regularly seized by regional coast guards for fishing illegally. A previous investigation published by Oceana did indicate that European vessels even broke European Union laws while in West African waters.
Despite its narrow coastline, Gambia possesses particularly rich waters, caused by the merging of fresh water from The Gambia River with the Atlantic Ocean.
Gambia’s fish stock is depleting rapidly, threatening food security in the impoverished nation of fewer than two million people. Conservationists say fish is the main source of food and protein for the country’s poorest and its scarcity is causing prices to hike.