The ocean that surrounds Mauritius on any given day is as tranquil and sublime from January to December. Equally you will find on any given day , ships rolling past far out as the eye can see, many of them fishing trawlers and vessels .
Underneath this visually serene facade an unbridled issue of illegal fishing which is going on out there in the vast Mauritian territorial high seas. A criminal activity that costs Africa per year over 600 million USD.
Environmental crimes such illegal fishing account for a whopping 20 billion USD per year loss to industry and livelihoods globally, with around 26 million tons shipped without legal permission to do so.
In February ,Interpol’s- Environmental Crime Programme in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trust, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, declared a major worldwide crackdown illegal fishing, dubbed Project Scale.
Nonetheless if you scratch the surface in Mauritius an often hidden scenario, which is the elusive and often unknown issue of illegal fishing, one that is rapidly becoming an enormous problem on the island nation.
Along the way, the country has picked up some rather distinct matters arising from illegal fishing deeds.
As with much of Africa ,illegal high seas pilferage of fish stocks has been an issue for many years as the burgeoning wait of supply and demand for European and and Asian markets becomes a challenge not just for local authorities ,but the weight of this environmental crime .
The oceans are universally accepted as the common property of humanity by its very humanistic designation, illegal fishing is causing economic and social difficulties at the hands of foreign vessels.
In fact the word illegal fishing of ( IUU) -legal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing as it is commonly known internationally often gets confused and conjures up pictures in the mind of a fisherman on a small boat wandering around without a fishing license and taking a couple of species of fish without express permission from local authorities. Certainly, this stereotypical view is certainly not the case here .
Indeed, the term illegal fishing also refers to unreported and intentionally misreported fishing activities.
In fact the seriousness of the crime cannot be understated with the involvement of international policing efforts .
In addition, the universal term of unregulated fishing which entails commercial fishing boats hoisting mistaken national flags or nationality of the vessels for registration purposes in the country of operation as opposed to having not a license to fish in a country's territory, all above transpire in Mauritius.
Commonly, illegal fishing in Mauritius solely refers to fishing operations undertaken by foreign nationals or foreign vessels in Mauritian waters without its permission to do so, which logically contravenes laws in many countries.
Where the problem becomes momentous on the island is either complete or inefficient lack of controlling foreign vessels in the Mauritian waters and EEZ-Exclusive Economic Zone, which spans some 1.9 million square km.
Through the lack of technological and human resources available to the Mauritian authorities, it seems unlikely they can control the over 500 vessels operating in this huge fishing garden in Mauritius and this number is climbing.
To put things into wider context, the fishing industry provides over 13,000 jobs and the livelihoods of many Mauritians and is starting to become a strong pillar of the economy as it transits from the traditional agricultural sector of sugar cane production.
However the most affected and somewhat outspoken are the traditional or small scale fisherman who use the traditional old-school methods who co-incidentally have a much less human impact on fisheries resources which has not been refuted by empirical scientific evidence thus far.
In fact artisanal fisherman and their extraction methods are much easier to regulate, control and administer as they fish closer to the shore and do not venture out into the high seas where the much more technological methods are used and are harder to regulate by the Mauritian government authorities, that is foreign vessel territory as much as it is Mauritian territorial seawaters.
Mauritian Oceanographer and Environmental Engineer, Vassen Kauppaymuthoo explains that the urgency of the problem of illegal fishing cannot be taken for granted; iterating it is an immense problematic situation that is mounting and it has far-reaching environmental and social complications.
“These fishing activities are often perceived locally as being carried out to the detriment of the countries themselves including impoverished populations and coastal communities, especially when certain industrial fishing companies carry out illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities to scoop out the remaining pelagic resources for sky high short term economic gains and benefit,” Kauppaymuthoo said.
“ The problems become coarser as large migrating trans boundary fish stocks are perceived and exploited as blue gold by many developed European and Asian nations within the large often uncontrolled and uncontrollable Exclusive Economic Zone of poor African countries when we know that one single sushi grade Bluefin tuna can reach the price of USD 300,000 on the Japanese markets,” Kauppaymuthoo adds.
In a report entitled; Fisheries and IUU Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated within the Republic of Mauritius undertaken by Kauppaymuthoo recently, he sheds a big torch light on the gravity of the situation and what this conveys to Mauritius and Africa in general.
In some of the report’s findings it summarizes that the recent uptake in fisheries interest and specifically in the EEZ carries with it substantial negative ecological, international and regional problems.
In addition, the report states that Mauritius uniquely has immense difficulty in intercepting and reporting illegal fishing activities mainly because patrolling its borders adequately has become virtually impossible , making the regulation of illegal fishing dire.
Coupled with the issue that most fish in Mauritius are overfished such as Tuna and that many foreign vessels do not report all fish species they have taken from the ocean, the problem becomes even poorer.
Additionally Vassen points out in his report that traditional fishing methods, which have been maintained for decades around the world and in Mauritius, are far better than the overtly mechanized and mass operations of foreign angler in terms of by catch, fuel usage and more importantly the human footprint on the environment.
Illegal fishing has the potential to seriously reduce the potential economic and social benefit that a well-managed fishery sector could accrue to the island, Kauppaymuthoo said.
The Mauritian media have reported over the past year that because foreign vessels know that the Mauritian authorities are inadequate to deal with illegal fishing efficiently, intuitively many companies may be using Mauritius and other countries in Africa to great effect. The Mauritian government in various environmental case studies has highlighted this as well.
In a recent report sanctioned by The Mauritian government on the topic of illegal fishing , within its summary conclusions that this type of fishing activities is inevitably leading to economic and social losses, iterating that it will have negative impacts on food security and environmental conservation efforts now and in the future.
The current administration also noted in their report that non-cooperating nations who engage in illegal practices are causing harm to the oceanic resources that they have been allowed to fish out under protocol agreements which are causing further decline in fish stocks , however not mentioning which countries they were referring to.
Likewise, as with much of the African coastal countries such as Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia the problems associated with illegal fishing compound the existing collapsing fish stocks in the region. In fact, according to the British governments estimates Foreign and Commonwealth Office 40 per cent of fish catches are illegal in the African region
Subsequently, Mauritius according to environmental scientists will have to sort out the issue, which is largely an unseen problem, which is simultaneously causing coastal communities catchment problems, higher supermarket shelf prices and degrading the EEZ at an alarming rate and over prudently spiralling out of control of the Mauritian authorities.
In a recent report by the United Nations and the IUC-International Union on Conservation worldwide illegal fishing practices have resulted in some billions of dollars lost to national economies into the hands of private sector enterprises. Existing evaluations of the economic loss of illegal fishing worldwide is 20 billion USD yearly.
The protruding problem amid the numerous concealing innovations of ship registry and the catch documentation schemes of foreign fishing companies is causing more aspersions.
According the UN it costs African economies an estimated 630 million dollars per year. However, the very nature of vessels not reporting makes this fishing activity hard to quantify.
The Mauritius ship craft registry contains details of foreign vessels, which are eligible to fish in the Indian Ocean under protocol agreements. Information itemized in the registry includes details of vessel owners and their operators by international and local law.
Vessels which are not listed or which are in the IUU list of the Mauritian government are not eligible for fishing in the Mauritian part of the Indian Ocean, however this goes largely unchecked because of inn appropriate human resources and advanced technological equipment to combat illegal fishing.
The Mauritian aim to prevent illegal fishing and deliver traceability of the fish produce is lax. Rather laterally not directly however, illegal fishing has contributed to the acceleration of decline of fish stocks in Mauritius according to the UNEP-United Nations Environmental Program.
The theory goes that catch documentation, which is usually not provided to Mauritian port and customs authorities, is information regularly in the trade of big eye tuna, swordfish and Patagonian tooth fish, highly valued in European and Japanese markets. Illegal fishing is an industry in itself in Mauritius, sustainable as it sounds, paradoxically.