18 December 2020, by Stefano Valentino and Alpha Kamara
FREETOWN – Fish exported from Sierra Leone to Italy is exposed to allegedly illegal trawling that the Italian government seems unwilling to scrutinize.
A new investigation hosted by Voxeurop and conducted by cross-border team including Stefano Valentino in Italy and Alpha Kamara in Sierra Leone, proved that fish exported from Sierra Leone to Italy is exposed to allegedly illegal trawling that the Italian government seems unwilling to scrutinize.
Between 2016 and 2019, Sierra Leone’s government issued fishing licenses to six vessels registered in the Sicilian city of Mazara del Vallo. Many of these vessels committed actual or suspected infringements, such as raiding restricted coastal areas, operating without a license and reporting incomplete catches data. Two of them were caught and fined by local authorities.
The team got confidential documents and followed the routes of the dodgy vessels through the same geo-positioning data that Member States are required to use for their monitoring activities under EU law. Evidence shows that the Italian government did not comply with its obligations to check its flag vessels and investigate their potential wrongdoings. Meanwhile, new authorizations have been issued to the vessels which, as a result, have been active in the region until recently.
Through failing to enforce a stringent surveillance, the EU ends up contributing to the pillage of fish stocks in Sierra Leone as well as in neighbouring countries where the same vessels had fished illegally in the past years. Along with the Italians, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and French trawlers plunder the shores of the Gulf of Guinea at the expense of local fishermen which get increasingly poor and hungry.
The team talked to members of the fishing communities claiming to be eyewitnesses of abuses, while local agents admitted bribing public officials to secure fishing licenses on behalf of the Italian and Chinese fishing companies they represent.
Western African countries, altogether, lose nearly 2 billion euros each year due to the illegal depletion of their underwater resources. These financial losses mean profits for the international fishing companies and traders.
Based on statements by company managers, trade statistics and retailers’ websites, the team tracked the murky vessels’ fish products shipped all the way from Sierra Leone to Italy. Such products are sold in restaurants and supermarkets to Italian consumers who are unaware of their fishy origin due to lack of transparency in the EU-regulated supply chain.
(photo: Justin D. Pyle, USAF)