The Gambian navy has arrested six fishing vessels illegally found poaching on Gambian waters, according to the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF), on Wednesday. The arrest involved four Chinese vessels, one Gambian owned and a Senegalese trawler. The local fishermen and activists have nonetheless challenged the government to put up more active monitoring mechanisms while applauding the navy for the surveillance and arrest of defaulters.
The GAF says its navy operations at sea are a continuous process regarding Coastal Surveillance and Fisheries Protection Zone. “Since the government of the Gambia issuance of COVID-19 regulations which includes the closure of the country’s borders, both sea, air and land in a bid to curtail the spread of the viral disease, the Gambia Navy intensified patrols and surveillance along the country’s water ways. As such the Gambia Navy from the month of October to November 2020 has made significant gains against illegal fishing as six major arrests have been executed during different patrols within the country’s waters. The Navy on two separate incidents, on the 6th and 29th October 2020, carried out arrests on two different vessels for fishing in a prohibited zone. The vessels were SUPER FLY 1 and BETTY (DAK 709).”
According to the GAF statement, the Navy in collaboration with the Fisheries Department and Sea Shepherd conducted Joint Coastal Surveillance and Fisheries protection on November 4th, during which four arrests were executed for fishing in prohibited zones.
“The vessels were three Chinese fishing vessels, marked: F/V GORDE 105, F/V GORDE 106, and F/V GORDE 107. On 07 November 2020, the boarding team on board the Sea Shepherd arrested F/V FINSI WANG for being in possession of wrong fishing gear. Six fishing vessels were arrested during the period under review. One Gambian owned one Senegalese, and four Chinese vessels. They are all currently berthed at the fisheries jetty, under armed guards.”
The Gambian artisanal fishermen have long expressed worries over the illegal fishing activities particularly involving industrial fishing trawlers on the waters. They feared that overfishing and the use of wrong nets is causing shortage of fish.
A fisherman in Gunjur, Omar Saidy applauded the Navy for arresting the vessels, adding that it’s a good step that will preserve the fish.
“If you see, most of the people are complaining that the Gambian waters have no security or protection because the Navy underperforms. This shows that they are doing good because these trawlers are really destroying our sea because they sometimes go beyond their required coverage limit. This will send a clear message to those who are doing the same act to ensure they learn from this case.”
An environmental activist in Sanyang, Jawla expressed concern about the increasing number of vessels which is contributing to overfishing on Gambian waters. He’s concerned that the fishing nets the operators are showing to the authorities and not the only net they use at sea.
“I don’t believe there’s any regular monitoring system that regularly monitors their activities and where they fish. I don’t think there are any mechanisms or anything that is following their activities there. Generally, that overfishing is going to kill or minimize our fish resources in the very near future. Arresting them will help our juvenile fish to grow and have a sustainable fishing industry.
Majority of Gambians rely on fish for daily consumption due to widespread poverty. Meat is above affordability scale for most. But the persistent protests by fishermen and their associations continue to fall to a wrong ear of the government as the law governing illegal fishing has been deliberately stepped aside.
As per the Gambian fishing law, any vessel found illegally fishing on Gambian waters is liable to pay a minimum of five million dalasi. However, the fisheries officials have been preferring an out-of-court settlement. Both Minister James Gomez and his permanent secretary at the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources Bamba Banja said the law that asks for 5 million dalasi fine for defaulters ‘does not make sense’, arguing that it will ‘kill the industry.’ In the Malagen investigation last month, it was unearthed that the permanent secretary has taken bribes from a Chinese fish-meal factory just to set the company free from any legal process. Banja has since been put on suspension as the government’s special committee launched an investigation into the allegation.