EJF research shows Europeans eating stolen fish from Sierra Leone

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Research released by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) conducted over 18 months suggests that fish pirated off the waters of Sierra Leone enter the European Union. The UK-based EJF found that vessels most responsible for stealing our fish are cleared to carry their stolen fish into the EU. West Africa loses $1.5 billion a year to piracy. Sierra Leone especially because we keep wanting to dig deep into the earth looking for treasure instead of developing our maritime industry. So focused on our mineral wealth, we underestimate the money in the ocean.

“The lack of communication and coordination between the EU and coastal states in West Africa means that there is a vacuum of information on what is happening in the area with the highest levels of IUU fishing in the world.”

EJF, which carried out surveillance in conjunction with 23 local communities in southern Sierra Leone, said ships refused to pay fines, covered identification markings, bribed officials and fled to neighboring counties to avoid sanctions.

It said many also sailed under so-called flags of convenience. The report says events last year exposed a problematic system under which ships’ flag states, many of whom have no effective oversight of vessels, were given the primary responsibility for verifying whether catches were legitimate.

“Following the submission of evidence gathered at sea by EJF, 1,100 tonnes of fish were seized in March 2011 in Las Palmas and held for four months whilst an unprecedented international investigation was carried out,” the report said.

“Crucially, the seafood in question was eventually released when the flag states involved declared the catches were legal.”

Oliver Drewes, spokesman for European Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Commissioner Maria Damanaki, said the EU was “very, very concerned” about the possibility that illegally fished seafood could be making its way onto the plates of European consumers.

“We acknowledge and accept that the EU is a potential marketplace for these products,” he told Reuters, adding that, if the abuses were confirmed, the offending vessels would be banned from exporting to the EU and barred from European ports.

– For full article see Reuters by Simon Akam

On Thursday Aljazeera will be running a documentary based on EJF’s research and efforts by Sierra Leone maritime team to ward off the pirates. Next time you are in a restaurant in Paris or Roma and paying through the roof for seafood high chance that it was stolen from Sierra Leone . Maybe we need to develop a Kimberly Process for our fish….cause if it’s not the diamonds it’s the fish. Do you know where you fish comes from?