Fishermen in West Africa say illegal fishing by European and Asian trawlers are depleting their stocks along the entire coast.
Jeanson Djobo Anvran, the director of the agency that regulates fishing in the Ivory Coast, says there are pirates and trawlers of all nationalities. But he can't say precisely from which countries because he says there are so many that can be found plundering the Ivory Coast's resources. He reports that the foreign ships are well equipped and very large. He says they often come at night with as many as 2,000 sailors, up close near the coasts.
Some industry analysts say European and Asian fleets taking advantage of poor maritime surveillance in West Africa, illegally catching as much as $1 billion worth of fish every year. Ivory Coast says its catch was down 30 percent last year.
In the Ivorian village, Lahou, fisherman Germain Bamouni blames what he calls "Chinese" boats, because he says most of the crews look East Asian. Bamouni says there were fish in the past, but these days there is nothing. He says the Chinese boats clean out everything they find in their path and that local fisherman sometimes have to go out as far as 20 kilometers to bring something home.
The advocacy group Environmental Justice Foundation says as many as 60 percent of the fishing vessels off Guinea's coast are unlicensed. The European Union says it has strict regulations against illegal fishing. Some environmental groups, however, say trawlers use lax enforcement at ports in the Canary Islands to mix illegal catches with legitimate ones before shipping them to European markets.
Bamouni says local authorities share the blame for over-fishing because they do not do enough to monitor foreign ships in West Africa. He says that perhaps the authorities should be investigated because when the Chinese come, they pay lots of money to fish and the authorities leave them alone. He says the Chinese fishermen wipe out everything when they come through.
Anvran says there is simply not enough coordination to protect such a rich source of fishing, stretching more than 5,000 kilometers from Mauritania to Angola. He says it will require international cooperation to fight illegal fishing because the Ivory Coast, alone, can not do it. He stresses that a collaborative operation in the sub-region is needed.
The U.S. military command for Africa is running training programs for West African navies and coast guards to combat piracy and illegal fishing. One of the biggest obstacles is a lack of boats and a shortage of money for fuel.