Fishing boats arrive back at Idenau, a coastal village near Cameroon's western border with Nigeria.
Authorities say there are several hundred fishers in Idenau and most of their catch is exported to neighboring states like Nigeria as well as to Europe.
But fishing authorities say many of the fishers operating in Cameroon’s waters in the Gulf of Guinea are not registered and not from Cameroon.
That’s why fishers in Cameroon are urging authorities to crack down on hundreds of illegal fishers and fish farmers operating in the Gulf of Guinea after the EU banned imports of Cameroon’s seafood. The EU announced the ban last week saying Cameroon was not cooperating in the fight against illegal and unregulated fishing and fish farming.
Beninese fisher Thomas Wessie, 45, said he left his town of Djougou in 2017 to fish in Cameroon’s Southwest region, where Idenau is located.
Wessie said his company has seven medium-size vessels for semi-industrial fish farming. He said besides Cameroonians, Togolese, Beninese, Ghanaians and Nigerians, the Chinese are very involved in either semi-industrial or industrial fish farming in Cameroon's part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Wessie said boats prefer fishing in Cameroon’s waters because neighboring Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Nigeria have firm military controls to stop illegal fishing.
The EU on January 5 banned Cameroon-caught seafood, citing a zero-tolerance policy for illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing that threatens ocean resources.
Cameroon’s Fish Farmers Associations met Wednesday in the capital, Yaounde, to discuss the issues.
Koulou Boulou Pierre, a member of the association, said most illegal fishers in Cameroon’s waters are from Africa and China. He said the illegal fishers operate through corrupt government officials and ignore prohibited fishing zones.
Pierre said there is a lack of political will to stop high waves of corruption that are responsible for the proliferation of illegal fishing firms all over Cameroon. He said if the government does not take measures for the EU ban to be lifted, Cameroon's economy will be severely hurt as much of the 8,000 tons of shrimp and prawns for export will not get to European markets.
Last year, the EU said it found many shortcomings in Cameroon’s fishing industry, including allowing foreign boats that fish illegally to fly Cameroon’s flag.
The EU Commission said it will lift the ban against Cameroon if the country improves its fisheries governance and meets international obligations in fighting illegal and unregulated fishing.
Adrian Ngo'o Bitomo is coordinator of Agropole, a Cameroon government project to promote agro-industrial products including fish. Speaking to Cameroon's state broadcaster CRTV Wednesday, he said quick action is needed or the EU ban will disrupt plans to export 200,000 tons of fish this year.
Bitomo said Cameroon should clear its south Atlantic and Gulf of Guinea maritime zones of hundreds of illegal African and Chinese fish firms that refuse to respect international regulations aimed at ensuring sustainability. Bitomo said by stopping illegal fishing, the Cameroon government will ensure that the present generation does not deprive future generations of their right to natural resources through overfishing and catching immature fish.
Cameroon’s Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries did not respond to VOA’s request for comment on the EU ban and allegations of corruption.
China has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said it has tightened oversight of deep-sea fishing boats.