Somalia Cracks Down on Illegal Fishing

Bosaso, Somalia – A region in Somalia is cracking down on an upsurge in illegal fishing off its coast as fleets flock to waters where foreign naval forces have been taking on the pirates that make fishing a risky business.

Describing illegal fishing as “a national disaster”, President Abdiweli Ali Gas of the autonomous state of Puntland, in the country’s northeast, ordered four South Korean trawlers into port following claims they broke local laws.

Environmentalists used satellite technology to document the vessels trawling the seabed for catches that Al Jazeera discovered are mostly ending up in Italy – despite European Union regulations banning imports of illegally caught fish.

Scientists are warning unregulated trawling of the seabed may have devastated the marine environment and fish populations along Somalia’s 3,300km coastline, the longest in Africa but one where certain species are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

“Illegal fishing operators prey on coastal countries where the authorities cannot monitor and control their activities,” Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, told Al Jazeera. “Typically these are places where local communities rely heavily on fishing for food and jobs.”

‘Protection’ from pirates

Following allegations that the South Korean vessels had been breaking fishing laws – despite having licences to operate in the region – Puntland’s president ordered the trawlers into the port of Bosaso. The ships are believed to have flouted laws on where and how they can fish, with local fishing communities complaining the trawlers are operating just 3.2km from shore.

“The fact that product from the vessels we have tracked operating in Puntland continues to find its way into Europe is evidence of the need to strengthen the implementation of the EU’s efforts to block IUU [illegal, unreported and unregulated] imports,” said Trent. An official from Puntland’s Ministry of Fisheries, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, said the 500-tonne ships regularly fish in protected areas, endangering local fishermen, and reportedly catching species relied upon by communities that face what the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says are “critical” food shortages.

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Author Andy Hickman worked on the Al Jazeera pirate fishing investigation in Sierra Leone
Photo Credits: Al Jazeera

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