Monday, May 3, 2010

Who are the real pirates?

On April 27, the Security Council unanimously voted in favor of five recommendations to tackle piracy of the coast of Somalia; including, proposals to create a tribunal to prosecute the pirates. However, Resolution 1918 fails to address one of the main causes of Somali piracy - illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by foreign companies.

According to the High Seas Task Force, eight-hundred IUU fishing vessels operate in Somali water, reaping profits of $450-million annually. This sum outstrips foreign development assistance to Somalia five-fold.

The IUU fishing vessels, which are mainly based in Europe and South East Asia, started fishing Somali waters after the collapse of the government in 1991. In the absence of coastal patrols and monitoring, Somalia's rich fish stocks were easy targets for large, foreign fish trawlers. A UN report in 2006 recognized these problems, labeling Somali waters "an international free-for-all."

Unfortunately, this UN report has done little to inform the Council's recent decision. So, why not?

European and Asian fish markets depend on IUU catches, especially if prices are to be kept low. Foreign IUU trawlers began fishing Somali waters following the chronic depletion of their own local fish stocks.

Local fisher-people have also reported physical abuse from these piratical foreign IUU fishing vessels: doused in boiling water, fishing vessels crushed and nets cut. Also, the IUU fishing methods are far from "conventional"; cyanide and explosives are polluting this fragile ecosystem and destroying fish-stocks.

Security Council members must stop protecting IUU fishing fleets and take a more creative stance to tackling piracy. Suggestions could include creating a UN-mandated Somali coastguard and further investing in a fish DNA-tracking system so that IUU vessels cannot pass under the radar.

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