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Pirate fishing boats target Africa



By John James
BBC News, Abidjan

Ivory Coast is calling on the United Nations to lift an arms embargo that it says has prevented the defence of its waters from illegal fishing boats.

Fishing boats in Ivory Coast
The fishing industry provides a staple food for Ivorians

The country has been under a UN arms embargo since 2004, when a ceasefire in the civil war between the northern and southern halves of the country broke down.

Under the embargo, the government says it cannot buy the spare parts needed to repair two navy boats that used to patrol the country's waters.

Fishing unions say catches have declined by three-quarters to 40,000 crates a year since the start of the conflict because of illegal fishing.

"It's a vital sector," says Jeanson Djobo, the government's director of fish production.

"Fish is a staple food, so if the fishing sector dies, it'll create lots of problems for Ivorians."

"So we're calling on the international community for the embargo to be lifted, so we can repair our boats and start patrolling and arresting."

'Pirates'

The ministry responsible for fisheries recently carried out a week-long observation mission in Ivorian waters.

They spotted 50 boats.

"Out of these 50-odd boats, we couldn't identify more than half - almost certainly pirates that were in the process of fishing," says Mr Djobo.

Right now we are dying... The population is dying, our company is dying, and it's about time to take action
Boat owner Richard Tchibanda

But even if the so-called fishing pirates are easy to see, the government can do nothing to stop them.

"Fewer and fewer fish are coming to our docks," says Richard Tchibanda, a local boat owner.

"We used to have 14 boats; two companies closed because of the lack of fish, and right now we have five boats and we are obliged to go to fish longer than before.

"Right now we are dying actually. The population is dying, our company is dying, and it's about time to take action."

The UN's mission in Ivory Coast has 8,000 peacekeepers and enforces the arms embargo.

However, a spokesman said any responsibility for lifting the embargo rested with the UN Security Council.

The Belgian ambassador to the UN charged with looking after the embargo was not available for comment.

'Drastic decline'

The falling catches are not only a result of over-fishing, but also of illegal fishing techniques.

"These pirates don't follow the international rules for fishing because they're thieves," says Mr Djobo.

Fish in Ivory Coast
Fishermen say they have to fish for longer to get their daily catch

"They use any methods they want - they use any size of net; nets that trawl the sea bottom, any sort of machinery - they sweep the oceans clean.

"This all means we've seen a drastic decline in the catches of fishermen in our waters."

Barthelemy Kouassi Yao of the Ivory Coast Marine Fishermen's Union explained one of the illegal practices.

"They use bottom trawling, which consists of running a cable between two boats and putting a net between the two that goes from the surface all the way down to the ocean floor, so they pick up everything."

Suspensions

This practice is not restricted to illegal boats.

Some registered Chinese fishing companies have been repeatedly accused of bad practice.

"It's destructive for everyone, because in the short term - we don't need to talk about the long term - in the short term the destructive effects are being felt today," says Mr Yao.

The Chinese embassy in Ivory Coast said all Chinese companies should obey local fishing rules, and only a few were behaving irresponsibly.

"The embassy also asks Chinese companies to take care of the biological resources and the environment," said embassy official Luo-Fa Yang.

Three firms recently had their licences suspended for a month and responded by changing their nets.

A third suspension has been made permanent, so technically the company should not be fishing.

Even so, says Mr Djobo, "you can easily find these boats in our waters continuing to fish because we haven't got any way to stop them".


SEE ALSO
True cost of the ocean heist
02 Jul 08 |  Science/Nature
Country profile: Ivory Coast
16 Jan 08 |  Country profiles

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