IUU FISHING: Cameroon receives a red card from the European Union.
The country's fisheries products will not be able to access the European market.
At a time when the country is seeking to find new markets to sell part of its growing fisheries production, the prospects of access to the very profitable European market are closing. This is the immediate effect of the "red card" issued by the European Commission on Thursday, January 5, 2023. A sanction which, according to the communiqué of the aforementioned Commission, implies that the Member States of the European Union will refuse all products from Cameroonian fisheries, including those with catch certificates validated by the national authorities.
This decision follows the "yellow card", a call to order issued in February 2021, with the aim of obtaining from the State of Cameroon the development of more reliable measures to prevent and fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and the assurance that the Cameroonian flag will no longer be assigned to vessels that already have a history of illegal fishing.
Reasons for the sanction
The European Commissioner for Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, blames the authorities in Yaoundé for not having done enough in the last year to curb illegal fishing. According to him, Cameroon has even "continued to register fishing vessels operating outside its waters without any monitoring of their activities. This phenomenon is called "flag of convenience" and consists, for a State, in registering in its fleet vessels of foreign origin operating in most cases outside its waters without any real prior investigation or control over them. These flags are often used by operators to conceal their identity and avoid sanctions when they engage in illegal activities. It appears that in recent years, Cameroon has registered several high seas vessels (i.e. operating outside the country's waters) with a history of IUU fishing, some of which are under international sanctions. The problem is not limited to the Cameroonian high seas fleet, according to research by Maurice Beseng of the University of Sheffield (UK), 70 industrial fishing vessels were active in Cameroon in 2021, most of them of Chinese or Nigerian origin. These vessels were known to operate in areas reserved for artisanal fishing. Such practices lead to the overexploitation and destruction of marine ecosystems while tarnishing the reputation of the Cameroonian flag. In 2017, the government of Cameroon estimated the total cost of illegal fishing at $33 million per year, representing a net loss of revenue for the country's economy.
The consequences of the restrictions.
According to the FAO, the fishing industry in Cameroon employs nearly 200,000 people and generates an overall income of 119.4 billion CFA francs per year. The sector is booming. Between January and October 2021, a mass export of more than 102.5 tons of shrimp was recorded on its way to Malaysia. In view of these figures, the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OEACP) intends to help Cameroon develop this sector in order to access the very profitable European Union market. To achieve this, in addition to measures to combat IUU fishing, the country will have to equip itself with quality infrastructure, including analytical laboratories, for quality control of production according to the standards in this area.
In addition, within the framework of the FISH4ACP project, which aims to develop the potential of fisheries and aquaculture in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, Cameroon is receiving support for the development of the shrimp fishing value chain. In 2021, Cameroon produced about 400 tons of shrimp (especially gambas, pink, gray and tiger shrimp, chosen because of their high export potential). Excluding Cameroon from the countries authorized to export their fishery production to Europe would represent a huge loss of earnings for the country's economy.
To this question, Dr. Takoukam Aristide, President of AMMCO, replies: "A sharing of sanctions, but no profit". For him, the Cameroonian economy does not benefit significantly from the registration of these vessels, which do not land their products in Cameroonian ports and do not sell them on the local market. As a result, Cameroon makes almost no tax deductions on the activity of these vessels. In addition, these vessels do not employ local labor. However, when they are guilty of IUU fishing and other maritime crimes, it is Cameroon that bears the responsibility. In a press release issued on January 10, 2023, Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), AMMCO's partner in Cameroon, also highlights the negative impact of these vessels on Cameroon's image internationally as a responsible fishing and ocean-going nation. The yellow and red cards received less than two years apart are a sad example. Unfortunately, the country does not yet have sufficient logistical and human resources to ensure the monitoring and surveillance of these vessels. Based on this assessment, it is clear that Cameroon would greatly benefit from cleaning up its registry and suspending the registration of vessels operating outside of its waters, at least until a rigorous registration procedure (allowing for the filtering of vessels with a history of IUU fishing) and a more robust control system are put in place.
Towards an end to the crisis
To address the problem, AMMCO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries (MINEPIA) and EJF, has launched a project entitled "Stop IUU fishing in Cameroon" with the support of OCEANS 5. The project is implemented in collaboration with other institutions such as Global Fishing Watch (GFW), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Ministry of Transport (MINT) and the National Navy.
Since the launch of the project, there have already been advocacy and sensitization actions involving fishing communities in the fight against IUU fishing, consultation meetings for the revision of the Cameroonian law governing fishing and aquaculture, and an inventory of the Cameroonian fishing fleet conducted by EJF. According to sources well introduced in MINEPIA, a collaboration protocol is being prepared between MINT and MINEPIA and could be signed very soon. It will improve governance in the management of the Cameroonian fleet.
Ultimately, Cameroon will be able to effectively combat IUU fishing through better fisheries governance, a legal framework, and improved monitoring, control, and surveillance systems in order to contribute to the sustainable management of its marine resources and the food security of the Cameroonian population.