In the waters off East Africa, one in four fish is caught illegally, costing African countries billions of dollars, depleting fishing stocks and damaging fragile marine ecosystems.
Illegal fishing prompted seven countries — Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and Tanzania — to join a groundbreaking venture in 2013 called FISH-i Africa (pronounced Fish-eye) that uses satellites to track illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. Somalia joined the partnership in 2015 as the eighth member country.
“It’s eight like-minded countries working together to share information and stand shoulder to shoulder where illegal fishing is concerned,” says Tony Long, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Ending Illegal Fishing Project, which provides technical support to aid FISH-i Africa’s efforts.
The nonprofit organization Stop Illegal Fishing established FISH-i Africa, with support from the Norway-based consultancy Nordenfeldske Development Services and other groups.
Before FISH-i Africa, illegal fishers were able to exploit a patchy and cumbersome system. Today, the member African countries exchange intelligence on ships in their waters and have communication systems that provide instantaneous, real-time monitoring.
FISH-i Africa has resulted in a number of successes, including:
- Participating in more than 30 investigations of suspect ships.
- Seizing illegal fishing vessels.
- Cracking down on a fake licensing operation in Tanzania that had denied significant licensing revenue to the Tanzanian government.
- Focusing attention on appalling working conditions on illegal fishing ships.
Challenges, promises ahead
More challenging is trying to detect those ships that turn off their automatic identification systems to evade satellite tracking. Efforts are underway to build a system that combines multiple layers of data to assist FISH-i Africa in zeroing in on illegal fishing ships with greater accuracy.
The success of FISH-i Africa led six other African countries — Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo — to create the West Africa Task Force in 2015 to combat illegal fishing. The task force is based entirely on FISH-i Africa’s model.
“The key to FISH-i Africa’s success has been access to timely and relevant information, effective information-sharing, and perhaps more than anything else, cooperation,” said FISH-i Africa chairman Nicholas Ntheketha.
FISH-i Africa is part of the Safe Ocean Network, an initiative U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry first announced at the second Our Ocean Conference in 2015.