Brussels - Some 31 fishing trawlers and three fish transport vessels operating outside of any legal control and plundering fish stocks have been sighted by Greenpeace off the coast of West Africa, where they are fishing for the most valuable species. In the process of catching prawns, cephalopods, sole, tens of other species are killed and discarded. The international environmental organisation published new data today which was gathered during September 2001, when the vessel MV Greenpeace sailed off the coasts of Guinea Conakry and Sierra Leone for a second documenting expedition.(1) Nine of these fishing vessels had already been sighted fishing illegally by regional surveillance flights.(2) Ten are flagged in Belize, a notorious flag-of-convenience(FOC)country.(3)

"These pirate trawlers continue to fish ignoring international regulations, some of them sailing without identity or flag, with their identity hidden or with two names. Between the 7th and the 14th of September, in only one week, we caught 31 of them," said Helene Bours of Greenpeace. "In these regions, effective control and legal enforcement are non-existent, so these vessels trawl the bottom of the sea, catching species indiscriminately and leaving a marine desert behind them."

Greenpeace has been campaigning for years against pirate fishing, a global phenomenon which affects many regions of the world, but primarily developing countries. Not only does pirate fishing destroy the marine environment, it also jeopardises the livelihood of local fishing communities. Incursions by trawlers in coastal areas, they sometime operate less than one nautical mile from the coast, and sometimes even in the estuaries of rivers, often result in collisions with local canoes and many fishermen are killed. Pirate fishing also deprives developing coastal states from much needed earnings.

In the developing world, pirate vessels take advantage of some countries' lack of resources to patrol their waters and control fishing activities. Guinea Conakry is a particularly vulnerable example. Unlike Mauritania and Senegal, it does not have any patrol planes or boats, while its neighbour Sierra Leone is in an even worse situation as pirates take advantage of their war. "Pirate fishing is one of the pernicious results of a situation of exacerbated competition in the fishing industry. As industrialised countries see their fish stocks decrease and impose stricter control measures in their waters, fishing companies and boat owners find ways to evade the constraints, and displace their destructive activities to areas where effective control is absent to continue to supply consumers with their favourite seafood," added Bours.

The European Union, as one of the major fishing powers and markets in the world, must face its responsibilities as far as its ports, such as Las Palmas, markets, companies and fleets are concerned. It also has the duty to help developing countries fight illegal fishing. Greenpeace calls on the EU to:

close ports to pirate fishing and support vessels

close its market to pirate-caught fish;

close or otherwise prevent companies and nationals from owning or operating FOC fishing and support vessels;and

extend financial support to developing countries for fisheries activities control through EU Development and Co-operation policy, with particular attention to the regional dimension of control operations.