African waters have contributed to the world’s fish supply for years, with three of the world’s four most productive marine ecosystems close to the continent. The Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of African countries have contributed over 6 million tonnes of fish to the global food supply, supporting food security and livelihoods on the continent, while generating US $ 15 billion for the African gross domestic product in 2011. Each sovereign state has an EEZ, an oceanic area adjacent to their coasts in which they have special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources.
Industrial fleets from countries around the world increasingly fish in African waters, but with climate change and increasing pollution threatening African fish stocks, the sustainability of these marine fisheries is of growing concern if they continue. to be exploited by foreign countries.
A new study used satellite data from Global Fishing Watch’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) to describe and characterize the spatial characteristics of African and foreign industrial fishing activities in these African EEZs. Mi-Ling Li, assistant professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy at the University of Delaware at the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment (CEOE), was the lead author of the article, which was published in the Fish and fishing Scientific journal.
Industrialized foreign fishing
African countries have a short-term economic incentive to grant foreign countries access to fish in their waters. These foreign countries must make direct payments to obtain fishing permits in a country’s EEZ.
“There has been a controversy over foreign fishing in African waters, but there has been no quantitative assessment of how they act,” Li said. “It is difficult because a lot of African countries do not have good surveillance of their fisheries. “
The study described the spatial and temporal characteristics of industrial fishing activities in Africa and abroad – examining boats large enough to carry AIS trackers.
“African fisheries are in desperate need of better information and data for their management,” said David Kroodsma, director of research and innovation at Global Fishing Watch and co-author of the document. “It is exciting to be able to use GPS vessel data to help solve this challenge and reveal fishing activity across the continent.”
The document highlights where and how long the boats spent most of their time and what fish they said they caught in those locations.
The EEZs exploited by a large number of countries were generally located in West Africa, with the EEZs of Western Sahara and Mauritania being exploited by the largest number of foreign countries.
The resources of specific fish stocks could determine where vessels would fish. Japanese vessels, for example, spent most of their time fishing for tuna in East Africa, with around 75% of total reported Japanese catches coming from the waters of Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and the Seychelles.
“This document shows that fisheries and their management in Africa are broadly interconnected, highlighting the need for international cooperation to address the challenges facing the continent’s fisheries,” said William Cheung, professor at the Institute of the Oceans and of the University’s fisheries. from British Columbia who co-authored the study. “We demonstrate the importance of having accessible data, including data from new technologies, to generate the knowledge needed to meet these challenges.”
A puzzle piece
While AIS data can indicate where and for how long vessels were fishing, the reporting data from the vessels themselves is relied upon to confirm what they are catching. Sometimes the data is not always correlated, indicating the possibility of illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The study used Namibia, an African country in this region, as a case study.
Unlike some other African countries, Namibia requires fleets in their EEZ to land their catches at their national ports. However, not all fishing fleets followed this regulation. While 20 fishing entities have been identified by AIS as being in Namibian waters, not all vessels reported having caught fish in these waters.
“Namibia has a relatively good surveillance system, and they require all fleets that fish there to land on their docks,” Li said. “But even with these regulations we find a big difference in who reported fishing. and capture there and who we detected by AIS. This is a big problem when it comes to illegal fishing in African waters. “
The authors said the AIS system can be used to help detect and characterize undeclared activity in these EEZs, which can help respond to IUU fishing.