Pirates, Poverty, and Fishing in West Africa – Mariah Boyle

Created on Thursday, 19 January 2012


The following piece was taken from the most recent FishWise newsletter. To sign up for our mailing list, please follow the link.

I’ve just returned from a research trip to Sierra Leone. It’s a nation recovering from civil war and struggling to protect its natural resources. Some estimate that more than 70% of the population lives on less than $1 a day, with 26% in extreme poverty. The nation’s oceans are famously productive, but they are under threat from pirate fishing and a lack of local regulation.

I went to Sierra Leone to learn about the fish caught in local artisanal fisheries. You wouldn’t think fish caught by men paddling dugout canoes could be in trouble, but they are. In Sierra Leone, vessels (often from foreign countries) come into the Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ) to fish. These vessels, if fishing without a permit, fall into the category of IUU – illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. These are the pirate fishing vessels that are illegally taking an estimated 40% of the fish from the West African fisheries market. Estimates of fishing losses globally to illegal activity range from $10-23.5 billion, representing 11-26 million tons, based on a study by Agnew et al. 2009.

Over the course of my three week stay I was able to photograph about 70 species of fish and count over 5,000 fish. We will use this information to inform the creation of some Marine Protected Areas and give advice to the fishermen on how to best manage their fish stocks. During my stay there were illegal vessels fishing and I saw some of it firsthand. Piracy is a very real thing that is hurting West Africa in economic gains, livelihoods, and food security.

Want to do your part? Take action by sending a request to the UN to create a global record of fishing vessels. If you live in the Monterey Bay area, I’ll be giving a talk on my research at Moss Landing Marine Lab on January 18th at 7pm.