Although piracy off East Africa has garnered much international attention in recent years, it is the waters off West Africa that are seeing the highest rates of a different type of piracy: pirate fishing. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), up to 37 percent of the catch harvested by fishermen off West Africa is illegal, unreported, or unregulated-in other words, the result of pirate fishing.
Fishermen launch their boat in Sierra Leone in October 2008. The Environmental Justice Foundation is arming such locals with cell phones to monitor pirate fishing. Photograph courtesy Environment Justice Foundation.
The toll of that pirate fishing is considerable, according to Steve Trent, the London-based executive director of EJF.
"When we first went to the region a few years ago the local fishermen were fearful of going out because of fear of violence [at the hands of pirate fishers]," said Trent. "They were also seeing their fish stocks declining, heading toward a potential collapse."
Trent explained that the impact on local communities was compounded due to a lack of other economic opportunities and because of the importance of seafood in the local diet. In Sierra Leone, 230,000 people work in fisheries, while seafood makes up 64 percent of the protein consumed.
Globally, pirate fishing results in losses of $10 billion to $23.5 billion a year, according to the EJF. Many nations, especially in West Africa, have difficulty combating the problem due to a lack of resources and the size of coastal areas.
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