Minister allegedly set free Senegalese trawler caught poaching in Gambia
The Chronicle has learned from impeccable sources that one Senegalese fishing boat, recently caught poaching on Gambian waters without a license, has been released on the orders of the Fisheries minister, James FP Gomez. The illegal trawler was intercepted by a patrol of the Gambian Navy operating onboard Sea Shepherd’s ‘Sam Simon’, our sources hinted.
The illegal Senegal’s flying flag ‘Fatima’ was said to have been caught around 7 a.m., on Friday by the Gambian Navy. In our attempts to independently verify the veracity of the tip off, The Chronicle contacted James Gomez, the minister of Fisheries of The Gambia. Not only he declined to make any comment on the allegation implicating him, but the minister pushed for this strange advice to our reporter: “Go and ask whoever you want but not me… I am not giving you any answer. You guys give me a lot of troubles”, James Gomez opined.
Efforts to quell the growing trend of vessels’ incursion without official authorisations have been multiplied by the Gambian Navy supported by Sea Shepherd, an International marine wildlife conservation organization. Over the weekend, they intercepted six fishing vessels illegally found poaching on Gambian waters. While we now know that this Senegalese trawler has been set free, there is no indication as regards the four Chinese vessels and the Gambian trawler as well as another Senegalese vessel intercepted earlier.
In theory, illegal fishing by foreign trawlers is a serious crime in The Gambia with defaulters liable to pay a maximum sum of D25 million and a minimum penalty of D5 million upon conviction. They can also face a jail term for up to 10 years for the crime.
But in practice, the story looks more complex. From all indications, it appears that the policy at the Fisheries Ministry is opting for all out-of-court settlements with defaulters compelled to pay fines to the ministry. Evidence suggest that some defaulters have been only made to pay about D1 million, a little drop compared to the minimum D5 million if the owners of the illegal trawlers were charged and convicted by a court of law.
The practice of collecting fines has recently put the Fisheries ministry on the spotlight after a corruption scandal involving both the Minister and his erstwhile Permanent secretary Bamba Banja. Before his suspension in relation with the scandal, Bamba Banja argued that enforcing the law will kill the fishing industry as according to him, “the law doesn’t make sense”. Apprently, the out-of-court settlement policy has opened a wide door to corruption and bribery as exposed in September by Malagen, an investigative news platform in a well-documented publication. Malagen revealed that the then Fisheries permanent secretary Bamba Banja has taken a D100, 000 bribery from the Chinese operators of Golden Lead factory to escape a trial before a court of law, after they were caught for illegal fishing.
Banja was caught on tape claiming that he will share the bribery sum with the Minister of Fisheries. Although they both denied the allegation, the audio which was recorded during the settlement transaction rubbished the Permanent secretary’s denial. He has since been suspended pending a government’s probe into the case.
Gambian waters are the biggest natural resources endowment, providing fish which is the most affordable protein for the country whose majority of population are poor. Environmentalists and local fishermen have long expressed worries that the future generation may not benefit from the sea as indiscriminate catching is exhausting all the juvenile fish on the waters.
Senegal and The Gambia have signed a bilateral fishing agreement in 2017 which allows artisanal fishing canoes and industrial fishing vessels flying flags from either country to fish in both. It is a reciprocal agreement whose memorandum of understanding allows both parties to have fishing rights in the other country for 250 small-scale licenses, 15 tuna industrials fishing boats and 4,100 TGB for the other types of industrial fishing. The agreement does not waive the need to have a local legal registration in either country before sailing.