Fish caught illegally in Sierra Leone’s waters seized in Canary Islands

Hooman, the resident earth-dome builder in John Obey, sent me a photo today of Ose and a huge guitarfish. He said he hoped the fish that was caught wasn’t protected, as the shovelnose guitarfish is related to sharks which can sometimes be easily overfished. However, he noted it was Ose that “pulled him out of the sea fair and square.” It’s true, the possibility for overfishing exists, but the collective impacts of fishermen in Sierra Leone in boats powered not by engines but by muscle are not the problem.

Ose and his catch, photo by Hooman

It is estimated that Sierra Leone loses $29m from pirate fishing. That’s when permitted vessels fish within the 3 mile limit from shore or in the country’s waters without a permit at all.

Illegal fishing is hard to track, it’s actually a really big part of my day job in sustainable seafood. It’s hard to tell where fish come from as they can be caught on a vessel, transferred to another vessel, sold at market, combined with other catches, then finally sold to a retailer or restaurant. There are lots of links in the chain. The same is true for other industries like coffee.

However, recent shipments delivered to the Canary Islands on vessels under the flags of Panama, South Korea, and China have been seized. It’s suspected to be fish illegally harvested from Sierra Leone’s waters, there are allegations the boat caused damage to local fishermen’s nets and had children as young as 14 on board and at sea for 3 months.

How did the information get out? Someone in Sierra Leone contacted the Environmental Justice Foundation, who work on illegal fishing in the country.

Once vessels have been found to engage in illegal fishing, the EU and US both stop purchasing from those boats. However, it’s hard to prove catches are illegal, so that’s not a total solution.

How can you help?

1) Sign EJF’s petition to the United Nations to create a global record of fishing vessels.

2) Purchase seafood from a trusted source with a sustainability or traceability policy in place and always ask where it comes from.

For more information on pirate fishing, check out EJF’s video and read the Guardian’s article here .