On 02 November 2022, a report was published that identified a global trend of the deliberate disabling of AIS systems, which amongst other reasons, could be due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
The report, titled “Hotspots of Unseen Fishing Vessels,” was a collaboration between the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), who worked on the study with researchers at Global Fishing Watch and NOAA Fisheries.
Key findings revealed more than 55,000 suspected intentional disabling events from 2017 to 2019, which in turn may have obscured nearly 5 million hours of fishing vessel activity.
The waters of West African littoral states are one of four global hotspots for this activity where the disabling of AIS systems may have been undertaken not only for illicit fishing purposes, but to possibly to protect the ship and crew from piracy.
The issues surrounding both legal and illegal fishing have become such an issue that in early November 2022, Ghana issued a new maritime strategy to promote and secure its blue economy by 2040.
Indeed, an investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation found that 90% of fishing vessels operating in Ghana are owned by Chinese companies and overfishing of Ghanaian waters is devastating the Ghanaian fishing economy, resulting in estimates of a 40% fall in income rates for local fishermen.
An investigation by Associated Press found that Cameroon is becoming a favoured state for the registration of fishing vessels that are then suspected of IUU activities in the region and further afield.
By example 14 vessels owned by companies based in EU countries – of a total of 80 from around the world – reflagged to the Cameroon flag between 2019 and 2021.
IUU in Cameroonian waters is also likely linked to wider criminal activity, e.g., in the past both artisanal and industrial fishing vessels have been intercepted by third parties and used for smuggling fuel, arms, other contraband and illegal migrants.
An estimated 70 industrial fishing vessels that operate in the Cameroonian maritime area come from mainly China and Nigeria and over 80% of artisanal fishers come from Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Togo.