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Article compiled by: White Nation correspondent Johannesburg – March 12 2017
MUCH of impoverished West Africa relies on fishing for income and sustenance. However, Chinese fishing vessels, using illegal techniques like large drift nets — banned by the U.N. in 1992 because of their indiscriminate killing — have led to a precipitous decline in the number and size of fish caught.
Drift nets uncovered by environmentalists range from 10 to over 100 nautical miles in length, plunging from buoys at the surface to lead weights some 40 feet deep. Traditional fishermen, paddling dugout wooden canoes and hand-casting nets, cannot compete with these “insidious curtains of death,” as they have been dubbed by one environmental group. Sharks, turtles and porpoises are routinely snared as by-catch. “Two or three industrial vessels can clear the near coastal waters of Sierra Leone, for example, in a very short period if they use destructive fishing gear and practices,” says Steve Trent, executive director of the London-based NGO Environmental Justice Foundation. “It’s not about hundreds or thousands; relatively few boats can wreak havoc.” Five years ago, most boats targeting West Africa were Taiwanese or South Korean; now nearly all are Chinese.
As well as corruption and poor enforcement, efforts to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) Chinese fishing are deliberately hampered by Chinese vessels concealing their identities. Often they simply change the names painted on the side, unlawfully adopt the flags of the host nation, or flee to international waters if challenged by the local coast guard. Increasingly, though, boats are concealing their true whereabouts by tampering with automatic identification system (AIS) devices. AIS are global satellite positioning beacons that display a vessel’s location. They can be picked up by various monitoring systems, including satellites and handheld receivers. However, coverage is piecemeal and different nations have contrasting AIS regulations.For the past three years, SkyTruth, a U.S. non-governmental organization, has been working with Google and environmental group Oceana to develop a global automatic identification system monitoring system, Global Fishing Watch, to allow real-time tracking of vessels in a bid to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. It is due to go live later this year.
THE CHINESE SHIPS ARE USING ILLEGAL TECHNIQUES SUCH AS DRAGNETS TO PLUNDER OUR MARINE RESOURCES.
In the course of his research, one of SkyTruth’s top researchers, Bjorn Bergman, noticed something curious. He saw that a Chinese vessel with an AIS reading in international waters off New Zealand was adopting a curious, though somewhat familiar, route. “We moved its track over and saw it fitted exactly against the coast of South America,” he tells TIME. “It was pretty clear that the Straits of Magellan was the real location of the boat.” Since then, SkyTruth says that by contrasting automatic identification systems with visual or other forms of data it has proved that at least 40 Chinese vessels are transmitting consistently false locations. There have been boats claiming to be off the coast of Mexico but really in the Guinea Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and some even bizarrely purporting to be in the center of landmasses. “It is almost exclusively Chinese vessels that we have found spoofing,” he says. Environmentalists are calling on the Beijing authorities to better regulate the activities of all Chinese vessels, scale back overcapacity and end the state subsidies fishing operations enjoy. They also want China — and all world governments — to make automatic identification systems obligatory and companies legally culpable should their readings not be correct. Unique vessel identifiers— a permanent code equivalent to a car vehicle-identification number etched into the engine block — should also be made mandatory for all vessels around the globe, they say.
ON A REGULAR BASIS PROTECTED SPECIES AND DOLPHINS ARE CAUGHT IN THIS DRAGNETS
Making AIS mandatory would also aid the ability of SkyTruth’s Global Fishing Watch system to track all vessels around the world, flagging those that appear to be using destructive fishing techniques, like drift nets. Vessels exhibit certain characteristics depending on their purpose. Container ships, for example, always take the straightest possible route between two ports to reduce fuel costs. SkyTruth is developing an algorithm that would automatically flag vessels that betray classic drift net fishing behavior — essentially, sailing in large loops with lengthy pauses at each end — via their automatic identification system readings. That way, when retailers such as Walmart or Costco are sourcing seafood, they can choose those fishing vessels that have satellite data definitely showing where, when and how they have been operating. “When the market starts rewarding operators that are transparent and trackable, and penalizing those that aren’t, then we’re really going start shrinking down the ‘dark fleet,’” says SkyTruth president John Amos. Combining responsible consumption, satellite technology and enhanced enforcement will help protect the world’s seas, and those that live by them, from creeping ruin.
CHINESE PLUNDERING SOUTH AFRICAN FISHING WATERS- INCOMPETENT NAVY CANNOT COPE
The fleet of nine fishing vessels went radio silent after sunset on May 12 2016. Navigation lights and tracking beacons were also turned off. South Africa’s Victoria Mxenge — a 47m-long fisheries patrol vessel sent to bring the fleet to Saldanha Bay — hailed the fleet by radio, asking for a reason for the abrupt and illegal conduct. None was forthcoming. Instead, the fleet split apart and headed west at full speed. The Victoria Mxenge tracked Lu Huang Yuan Yu 186 on its radar through the pitch-dark night and boarded it. That vessel is now tied up in Cape Town harbor. But a subsequent chase by a navy vessel failed when the fleet left South Africa’s naval jurisdiction. The maxim governing the world’s oceans is simple: “You cannot control what you cannot patrol.” Illegal Chinese fishing boats are slipping into South African waters around the Hermanus and Gansbay areas on a continuous basis during the night.
Last year South Africa’s navy has detained three Chinese ships with around 100 crew on board on suspicion of illegal squid fishing. For South Africa, this throws up a conundrum — 1.5 million square kilometers of ocean need to be patrolled. This is an area larger than its landmass. But there are only 14 vessels, four naval helicopters and five planes available to do that. On a good day, only three-quarters of those are able to head out to sea. This is a historical problem. South Africa’s territorial waters extend out 22km from shore. Its exclusive economic zone, where it owns all resources, goes out 370km. This then stretches into the southern oceans, 1 600km to the Prince Edward and Marion islands. Current government plans are to turn that area into a R177 billion a year factory — Operation Phakisa will include fisheries and 22 off-shore marine protected areas. But naval investment has not kept up with the scale of this plan.
CHINESE FACTORY SHIPS LIKE THESE WORKING WITH DRAGNET TRAILERS CAN EMPTY A COASTLINE OF 200 KM FROM ITS RESOURCES IN NO TIME
South Africa spends 1.05% of its gross domestic product on the military. The world average is 2%, while its neighbors spend 3%. The 2014 Defence Review — a comprehensive look at the armed services — said this spending is at odds with the importance the ocean has to South Africa. Most of its imports and exports come across the ocean. The ocean economy brings in R60 billion a year. Securing all of this requires “deterrence and a powerful intervention through surface, subsurface and air capabilities”, according to the report. But both deterrence and intervention are hamstrung. “SA Navy vessels can no longer be made combat ready to execute the full range of missions they were designed for,” the report said. This means that 40-year-old vessels are still plodding along, while new frigates are operated more frequently than they should be, which affects their maintenance, it said.
In her budget speech this month, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula warned: “We have come to a point where we must make a critical decision on the future of the defense force. The longer we delay in arresting the decline, the harder and more expensive it will become to reverse the trend.” That decline means South Africa has little capacity to patrol. The navy has four new frigates, three ancient offshore patrol vessels and three inshore patrol vessels to respond to any illegal fishing and piracy across 1.5 million square kilometers. Its three submarines stick to surveillance. These 10 vessels are, strictly speaking, relegated to a supporting role for the fisheries department. It has three new inshore patrol vessels and one deep-sea patrol vessel. Timothy Walker, a maritime specialist at the Institute for Security Studies, says this limited capacity poses an immediate threat to the country’s fish stocks. “Illegal fleets are always probing your exclusive zone to find a weakness. You have to show your intent and respond to this,” he says. His institute calculates that illegal fishing costs the economy more than R6 billion a year. Without an increase in vessels, and things such as intelligence gathering and surveillance of the ocean, the country’s oceans will be plundered to a level where they would struggle to recover, he says. “By the time we get the assets to patrol our fisheries, the damage will have been done.”
The most pressing concern is South Africa’s poor maritime awareness, says Henri Fouché of Stellenbosch University’s faculty of military science. “We don’t know what is going on [at sea] because of the lack of assets.” At present, South Africa tracks ships through their automatic identification systems, which have to be kept on, by law. But illegal fishing vessels turn theirs off, as did the fleet that fled the Victoria Mxengepatrol vessel. This means it is down to a handful of 70-year-old surveillance planes based at Ysterplaat Air Force Base in Cape Town to find vessels. The radar on the navy’s four frigates can only see up to 200km away — a drop in the ocean. Fouché says: “Essentially, our vessels head out on patrol and get lucky. But this is a tremendous area that has to be covered.” When the navy does go out on patrol, it has a good record of finding illegal fishing, he says. Arresting these vessels is the fisheries department’s responsibility.
THE SCOURGE OF OUR SEAS- ILLEGAL CHINESE FISHING VESSELS THAT SNEAK INTO OUR TERRITORIAL WATERS AT NIGHT
Matthew Thornton-Dibb, an environmental lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright, says this department has the mandate to look after the country’s fish stocks, a task governed by the Marine Living Resources Act. This gives fisheries protection officers the right to “seize any vessel they believe is undertaking illegal activity”, he says. This can include acting erratically, or switching off the tracking beacon. But when a vessel leaves territorial waters and heads into international waters, there is little a country can do. To boost the ability of the navy and fisheries department to catch ships inside South Africa’s waters, the navy launched Project Biro. This would see three new offshore and three new inshore-patrol vessels being built at local dockyards, and would give the country enough capacity to patrol its oceans. But the project has been consistently delayed. South Africa remains a maritime country without maritime assets.
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