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Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Sherbro river, Sierra Leone


In last 20 years, international trawlers in West Africa have taken hundreds of tonnes of fish for export to Europe, at the expense of local small-scale fishermen. Foreign trawlers often violate the regulation to stay outside the 12-mile limit, as most countries lack the resources to patrol their waters. Pirate fishermen in Sierra Leone fish inside exclusion zones, refuse to pay fines, cover identification marks, use banned fishing equipment, employ poor hygiene conditions on-board, bribe enforcement officers and attack local fisherman, among other violations. According to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Sierra Leone loses $30 million annually as a result of pirate fishing.

Between January 1, 2010 and July 31, 2012, local communities with the support of the Environmental Justice Foundation documented 10 vessels illegally fishing in Sierra Leonean waters. Crew on board one of the vessels, Medra, attacked a local fisher, while another, Marcia 707, picked up approximately 200 artisanal fishers and their canoes in Senegal before deploying them to fish illegally in the inshore areas reserved for local fishers.

The investigation resulted in a number of victories against the companies and an increase in fishing catches for local communities after the vessels left Sierra Leonean waters.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Sherbro river, Sierra Leone
Country:Sierra Leone
Location of conflict:Bonthe district, Sierra Leone
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:
Biological resources

Project Details and Actors

Project details

,100 tonnes of fish was seized in March 2011 in Las Palmas and held for four months whilst an unprecedented international investigation was carried out.

Foreign trawlers are meant to stay outside the 12 mile limit, but many violate the regulations as most countries lack the resources to patrol their waters. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by foreign trawlers result in global losses of between $10 and 23.5 billion annually.

According to the EJF, West African waters have the highest levels of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the world, representing up to 37% of the regions catch. 90% of the pirate vessels investigated by EJF in West Africa were bottom trawlers which devastate marine environments by dragging heavy trawl equipment along the seabed. Sierra Leone loses $30 million annually as a result of pirate fishing.

Project area:33000
Type of populationUnknown
Start of the conflict:2010
Company names or state enterprises:Intermiso SA from Spain
Interburgo Co Ltd from Republic of Korea
Dong Yang Fisheries Co Ltd from Republic of Korea
Bugang International Co Ltd from Republic of Korea
Dae Hyun Fisheries Co Ltd from Republic of Korea
Sierra Fishing Company from Sierra Leone
Seokyung Corporation from Republic of Korea
Seatrade Holding BV
Kummyeong Fisheries Co Ltd from Republic of Korea
Kwang II Fisheries Co Ltd from Republic of Korea
Lucky Trading Co
Relevant government actors:Sierra Leones Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR);, European Commissions Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
International and Finance InstitutionsWorld Bank West African Regional Fisheries Program (WARFP)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Environmental Justice Foundation,

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Community surveillance of trawlers

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsVisible: Occupational disease and accidents
Potential: Malnutrition, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Application of existing regulations
Fishermen in other countries adopting community surveillance strategies and mobilizing.
Development of alternatives:-Expand community surveillance projects in collaboration with local communities policing their own waters elsewhere in West Africa
-Fully engage local communities and stakeholders in sustainable fisheries management
-Blacklist vessels that break the law and ban them from European ports and impose sanctions on vessels that refuse to comply with VMS rules
-Address weaknesses in EU regulations to stop illegal fish from entering Europe: the EU relies too heavily on the assurances of flag states that do not monitor their fishing fleets in West Africa
-Improve communication between the EU and coastal states to end pirate fishing and protect vulnerable communities
-The UN FAO must speed up the development of binding standards for flag State performance and consider the application of sanctions for non-compliance with international obligations.
For more, see EJ Foundation report.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Community surveillance strategies led to the identification of 10 vessels illegally fishing off Sierra Leones coast; over US$500,000 in fines were imposed on the vessels and a dramatic reduction in illegal fishing activity ensued in Sierra Leones Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ); Korea is considering sanctions for 14 vessels involved in IUU fishing and imposing new rules on vessels operating in West Africa, requiring them to carry Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS); the Spanish port of Las Palmas has tightened controls on the import of fisheries products. Artisanal fishing communities in the area have reported an increase in their ability to fish.
However, the recent crackdown on illegal fishing in Sierra Leone has caused many vessels to relocate to Guinea where there is no functioning VMS or Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS). Vessels that have been caught illegally fishing in Sierra Leone, such as the Kummyeong 2, have been later been found operating in Guinea under another identity/flag. As well, there are 267 large-scale, Korean-flagged vessels and 55 large-scale Panama-flagged vessels with accreditation to export their catch to EU. There are many more vessels not accredited to export fisheries products to the EU but transport fisheries products to non-EU markets. In addition, vessels with ownership links to the EU and East Asia are increasingly exporting large parts of their catch to the growing West African market.
Another huge challenge outlined in an Al Jazeera investigation is corruption in the Sierra Leonean navy.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislationsĀ - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Legal Loophole: many vessels purchase Flags of Convenience from other countries that do not monitor illegal fishing and thereby hide the ownership of the vessels.

The EU IUU Regulation has now been in force for over two and a half years but no new vessels have yet been added to the EU IUU Blacklist and no countries have had their seafood exports to the EU restricted due to IUU fishing.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), nations are required to monitor and control fishing vessels flying their flag.

Port State Measures Agreement

Vessel Monitoring Systems rules (VMS)

EU Regulation to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (No. 1005/2008): the law attempts to deter pirate fishing by requiring all consignments of fish imported into Europe to be accompanied by a catch certificate, validated by the vessels flag State. The regulation threatens to impose import restrictions on fishing vessels that operate illegally and on countries that fail to effectively monitor and control their fishing fleets.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF). Pirate Fishing Exposed. The Fight Against Illegal Fishing in West Africa and the EU. (2012).



Al Jazeera: People and Power. Pirate Fishing. (February 2, 2012).

LinksĀ to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites


Environmental Justice Foundation. Sierra Leone Arrest Pirate Vessel Using Donated Isle of Man Patrol Boat. (December 21, 2012).

The Guardian. West African Fishing Communities Drive Off Pirate Fishing Trawlers. (October 11, 2012).

BBC. Pirate Fishermen Off Sierra Leone Export to the EU. (October 11, 2012).

The Economist. Good Catch. Fishing in Sierra Leone. (October 18, 2012).

Illegal Fishing info. Sierra Leone.

Concord Times. Sierra Leone: Illegal Fishing Vessels Escape Fine. (March 20, 2012)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

The Guardian (2012).

Al Jazeera, People and Power. Pirate Fishing.

Other comments:Directly affected people: 80 000 to 230 000 (directly employed in fisheries)

Meta information

Contributor:Zahra Moloo
Last update08/04/2014