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Somalia Cracks Down on Illegal Fishing: 36 foreign fishermen charged for operating without licenses

Sunday May 7, 2023



Mogadishu (HOL) - The Attorney General's Office in Somalia has charged 36 foreign individuals at the Banadir Regional Court for illegal fishing in Somali waters. The prosecution requested a postponement of their trial. The accused fishermen were detained last month by the Somali navy while in possession of over 30 tons of fish acquired without authorization from Somali waters. Following a court ruling ordering the auction of the seized fish, the Somali government announced its intention to sell the confiscated catch.

Since January 2023, evidence collected by the Ministry of Fisheries and Blue Economy reveals multiple foreign fishing vessels operating unlawfully in the Somali Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). For years, Somali waters have been plagued by Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, resulting in severe environmental and economic repercussions.

Somali fisheries law and the nation's constitution dictate that only the Federal Government's Minister of Fisheries and Blue Economy can issue foreign fishing permits. The Ministry confirmed that the fishing vessels in question are operating without access agreements or licenses from the Federal Government. In September, the Puntland regional government rejected a federal directive to deny state-level fishing licenses, arguing it violated resource-sharing agreements with Somalia's regional governments.

Foreign IUU fishing vessels have been active in Somali waters for decades, causing substantial damage to the marine environment and jeopardizing the livelihoods of Somali fishermen. The foreign fishing fleets first began by exploiting the country's lack of a functioning government and weak maritime security. These vessels participate in harmful practices, including overfishing, bycatch of non-target species, and using destructive fishing gear that damages the seabed and coral reefs. Such activities have led to declining fish stocks, threatening food security and depriving local communities of their livelihoods.

AIS tracs from fishing vessels linked to Iran. CREDIT. Global Fishing Watch

In mid-February, three UK insurers were accused by the Blue Marine Foundation of concealing illegal fishing in the Indian Ocean by providing coverage to fishing vessels that engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The foundation commissioned a study that examined the fishing patterns of French and Spanish-flagged tuna purse seiners in the Western Indian Ocean. According to the study, the three insurers cover nearly 50 European Union (EU)-flagged fishing vessels operating "dark" in the region. To ensure compliance, the foundation has urged insurers to include an analysis of Automatic Identification System (AIS) patterns in their due diligence processes, as well as to make responsible and consistent use of AIS a contract condition.

IUU fishing is a significant issue in the Indian Ocean, where two out of three tuna fisheries are overfished. 

In response, the Ministry established procedures, rules, and regulations that outline the terms and conditions for the legal process of issuing foreign fishing permits. The Ministry further clarified that endorsement letters are not legally valid and cannot be considered proper fishing permits in Somali waters.

The Ministry demanded that all foreign fishing vessels operating illegally in Somali waters exit the Somali EEZ immediately, comply with Somali law, and adhere to international conservation management measures. The Ministry also called for the ships to compensate for the fish they unlawfully took from Somali waters. Noncompliance will result in punishment and prosecution under Somali and international law.

Although the Somali government has established a regulatory framework for fishing in its waters, including a national fisheries law and a fisheries management authority, limited resources and ongoing security threats make it challenging to enforce regulations and combat IUU fishing.


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