IUU Fishing in (South) Africa

Maritime Security Briefings
Issue 5IUU fishing in (South) Africa



Author: Dr Ioannis Chapsos, Research Fellow in Maritime Security


In his 2008 report to the General Assembly, under the title “Oceans and the law of the sea”, the United Nations Secretary General identified Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing as one of the seven contemporary threats to maritime security. The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and The NGO ‘Black Fish’ very effectively reported the links between IUU fishing and transnational organised crime, defining also the distinctions between the three components of the term, with respect to coastal, flag states’ and the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations’ regulations. This particular and largely overlooked maritime insecurity has multi-dimensional implications for food, economic and environmental security, with a devastating impact especially on coastal communities.

Our research in Indonesia over the last two years has provided concrete evidence that IUU fishing is not only one of the primary concerns for the Government, but is also identified as the most significant maritime security challenge by other key maritime security stakeholders and actors such as Governmental entities and enforcement agencies. But this is not a challenge faced solely by the SE Asian region in general and its largest archipelagic country in particular. The 2050 African Integrated Maritime security strategy (AIM 2050), indicatively highlights the significance of fisheries for local populations: whilst over 46% of Africans live in absolute poverty—a figure that is still rising—fish makes a vital contribution to the food and nutritional security of over 200 million Africans and provides income for over 10 million. In this context, addressing IUU fishing is on the top of the list of priorities for the African Union.

Focusing further on South Africa, local fisheries law-enforcement units face a surge of organised fisheries crime due to its geographical position and good port infrastructure. Despite the authorities’ efforts –including the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s (NMMU) initiative to establish a training programme and academy for fisheries law enforcement officers and police- this long-standing problem still exists. On May 11th 2016 for example, an article published in the South African media partially exposed the extent of (IUU) fishing activities off the country’s coast. It publicised photos of three identical ships with no name and flag, and using a simple android vessel tracking application, the reporter provided evidence that these vessels disappeared from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) for 6 hours, high likely fishing illegally in a marine protected area off the Taskei Wild coast region. In a follow-up report, someone who works in a local fishing company testified that the fishing vessels involved in these controversial (and illegal) practices were most likely South African; everyone is still looking for answers in respect to the actors who could possibly be facilitating the shady deals, damaging both the environment, the local economy as well as the coastal communities’ food security in broader terms.

Maritime security is much more that piracy alone, which dominates the headlines, media coverage and on the other hand generates significant revenue and profit for security and insurance industries. Let’s wish and hope that, if and when the international community will realise the damage inflicted by IUU fishing practices, and the urgent need for international cooperation and a comprehensive approach to address this menace, it will not be too late.

To learn more about CTPSR’s work on IUU fishing please contact the author,ioannis.chapsos@coventry.ac.uk at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.



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