Illegal Fishing is a key driver of global overfishing. It threatens marine ecosystems, puts food security and regional stability at risk, and is linked to major human rights violations and even organized crime. According to researchers, millions of United States Dollars are lost to IUU annually, especially in the African sub-region, thereby depriving states of much needed revenue. Bearing this in mind, three countries in the sub-region, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Guinea have thought it necessary to intensify the fight against the menace through concerted efforts.  In an attempt to address the situation with support from the European Union, the three countries, organized a fifteen-day robust Joint Regional Surveillance and Monitoring Operation code named “Operation STINGRAY” in their territorial waters with Sierra Leone as host nation.

Speaking during the closed session of the operation, held at the Joint Monitoring Committee, JMC Headquarters, Murray Town, the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Emma Kowa Jalloh, said, the exercise was a demonstration of member states’ willingness and readiness to curb illegal fishing and strengthening good governance within the sub-region

“The fight against illegal fishing cannot be done by a country alone” she said and applauded the European Union for funding the exercise and ensuring that the governance of fisheries in the sub-region is implemented through regional approach.

She intimated that Sierra Leone has introduced a lot of reforms in the fisheries sector including the review of obsolete laws and policies in line with President Bio’s desire to streamline the fisheries sector in the country.

She used the occasion to inform the gathering about the ongoing CLOSED SEASON measures introduced by government to protect the country’s fish stock from depletion and hoped the member states will continue to cooperate and collaborate, especially in information sharing to ensure a more responsible and sustainable practices in the sub-region.

A representative from the European Union who spoke through virtual means, expressed satisfaction over what he referred to as a ‘successful mission’ and thanked the three member states for their cooperation while pledging their continued support.

Giving an update on the operation, the coordinator of the exercise, Mahmoud Ball, said, the operation which succeeded in arresting several vessels was enhanced by the use of Aircraft, Patrol vessels, Vessel monitoring Systems and technical staff from the three coastal countries. He commended the minister of fisheries for her commitment since the operation started and her country, Sierra Leone for cooperating with other nations to ensure the operation was successful.

Giving a brief background about the Sub-Regional Commission, SRFC through which the operation was undertaken, he said It is made up of seven states, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone with the objective of promoting long term harmonization of national policies in the areas of conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries and marine resources and at a given time, monitor fishing activities in each member state, among others. He outlined a number of challenges they faced including COVID-19 which affected some of their staff and lack of adequate and effective communication equipment information links between patrol vessels, headquarters and operation centers.

The Acting Director of Fisheries, Josephus Mamie who chaired the meeting, described the occasion as “auspicious” and referred to IUU as a ‘scourge” devastating particularly vulnerable nations across the west coast of Africa. As a nation, he said Sierra Leone has ensured that legal and regulatory frameworks that are necessary to combat illegal fishing such as the Code of conduct for responsible fishing practice, Fisheries Management Plan, Ports States Agreement, UN Fish Stock Assessment Agreement, among others are formulated, and acceded to.

It is always useful that we come together under one umbrella to monitor our waters in a relatively cost effective manner, given the fact that our plans are enormous but resources to fight IUU are limited”, he opined. He thanked the EU and PESCAO for supporting the regional exercise. Present at the gathering were the Deputy Minister of Fisheries, Ibrahim Turay, Head of JMC, Hindolo Momoh and the Press.

By Max A. Konneh

Head, MFMR Media Unit