Korean-flagged vessel charged with illegal fishing in Liberia
A Korean-flagged vessel has been charged with illegal fishing by the Government of Liberia. It is currently under arrest in the port of Monrovia and faces millions of dollars of fines for fishing in Liberian waters without a license.
The arrest followed regular reports to the Government of illegal fishing in Northern Liberia. The reports came from the local Community Management Association of artisanal fisherman and EJF’s community surveillance programme.
In June 2013, the Liberian coast guard arrested the ‘Nine Star’ in Northern Liberia, about a dozen miles from the Sierra Leonean border. It was caught after it had been chased with three other suspected pirate trawlers by the Liberian Coast Guard for over three hours. Initially the vessel refused to identify itself, but after being escorted to Monrovia port under armed guard its identity was established.
The Nine Star had been licensed to fish by Sierra Leone early in 2013 together with several other Korean trawlers. Whilst they claim to fish for the local market, the targeted species of these vessels is yellow croaker, which commands high prices in the Korean market. Unfortunately, the species is found almost entirely in the Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ) that is reserved for artisanal fishermen. As a result Korean trawlers often fish illegally in the IEZ, not only decimating the catch for local fishermen dependent on the resource, but also destroying nets and spoiling the wider ecosystem by discarding great quantities of dead and dying by-catch.
After being brought to Monrovia, the Nine Star was investigated and then charged with an array of fishing violations, most significantly fishing without a license and entering the IEZ. Initially, a fine of US$2 million was recommended by Liberian fisheries authorities. A settlement is currently being negotiated by the Government of Liberia and the vessel’s Korean owners in order to avoid a lengthy court case. Whilst this negotiation is ongoing, the Sierra Leonean fisheries observer and crew have been repatriated, and 2,000 cartons of fish has been seized by Liberian authorities and is being auctioned on the local market.
EJF commends Liberia for its arrest of the Nine Star and hopes a large fine is levied in order to act as a deterrent on other illegal vessels. The arrest appears to have resulted in a significant and immediate reduction of illegal fishing in Northern Liberia, demonstrating the effectiveness of enforcement action against pirate trawlers. Once released, EJF recommends that this vessel—and others with histories of illegal fishing—not be licensed by other West African States and be placed on the European Union’s blacklist of illegal vessels. The vessel is currently certified to import fish to the European market.
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