We work to protect vulnerable marine and coastal ecosystems and wildlife species including sharks, rays and turtles by promoting community monitoring of illegal fishing, local education and co-management projects, supporting the creation of marine protected areas and alternative livelihoods.
- Impact of pirate fishing on the environment
- Bottom trawling
- Shrimp production
- Turtle and shark conservation in West Africa
- Oysters for alternative livelihoods
1. Impact of pirate fishing on the environment
Pirate fishing operators break fisheries laws designed to conserve and manage fish stocks and protect biodiversity. In addition to fishing in closed areas or unlicensed, they often engage in destructive fishing practices, damaging marine habitats and depleting fish stocks.
In West Africa, most of the pirate vessels documented by EJF undertake bottom trawling, a highly destructive form of fishing where heavy nets are dragged along the ocean floor, destroying seabed habitats and scooping up any marine life in their path.
Once the nets are pulled up onto the trawler, commercially valuable species are identified, and the remainder – as much as 75% of the total catch, known as by-catch, is dumped, dead or dying, over the side.
Another worrying source of by-catch is Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs), which many tuna purse seiners use in West Africa to increase catches. Unfortunately, FADs aggregate many other species in addition to the targeted tuna.
EJF believes the astonishing wastage and damage associated with these fishing operations is totally unacceptable. Fish stocks across the world are threatened while people go hungry, unable to get the food they need to survive. Bottom trawling and destructive fishing practices must be stopped. By-catch often includes sharks and marine turtles. It also includes juveniles of commercial species (thereby endangering the future of the stock) and "valueless" fish species, many of which are key to healthy ecosystems and as a food source for local communities.
As well as destructive fishing by industrial vessels, the use of small mesh nets and illegal fishing methods by artisanal and semi-industrial fishers is of concern. In West Africa, illegal fishing by industrial vessels in the Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ), has forced some fishers into estuarine areas where fish breed. In addition, illegal fishing by foreign vessels has undermined communities’ willingness to use fishing nets with larger mesh and avoid the capture of vulnerable species.
We are working with communities in Sierra Leone's Sherbro River area to share information on the impacts of destructive fishing, traditional fisheries management practices and strategies for communities to become free of illegal fishing.
In addition to working in West Africa, EJF is undertaking research on the impacts of "trash" or low-value fish for the production of fish meal to investigate the impacts of aquaculture on wild capture fisheries.
2. Bottom trawling
Globally, bottom trawling is recognised as one of the most destructive fishing methods. It is highly unselective, with nets moving through diverse ecosystems and catching everything in their path regardless of whether they have commercial value or other value to the fishery. The incidental capture of non-target species, including sharks and rays, turtles, seabirds, whales and dolphins is exacerbating the impact on the marine environment.
Bottom trawling can severely disrupt marine ecosystems, damaging and depleting fish stocks and marine biodiversity. Non-target species and entire marine ecosystems can be devastated, as bottom trawling alters the structure of the seabed and reduces biodiversity and fish stocks.
- Bottom trawl nets can be as large as 40 feet tall and 200 feet wide.
- One pass of a single trawl net can remove up to 25% of all life in the seabed.
- Bottom trawling is responsible for up to half of all discarded fish and marine life worldwide.
EJF is calling for a ban on bottom trawling in West Africa under the Precautionary Principle as an important step towards recovering the marine environment to benefit marine species and the local communities who depend on the natural resources for their livelihoods and food.
A growing body of scientific evidence regarding the destructive nature of bottom trawling and the long-term impacts on marine-ecosystems, has led to full or partial bans being imposed by national Governments and under regional agreements.
There is a lack of data on marine resources, fish stocks and their health in West Africa due to under-resourced Governments and regional bodies. However it is estimated by the UN that 96% of the region’s fisheries may be fully exploited or overexploited. No research has been conducted on the impact of bottom trawling in these particular waters and marine environments, a challenge that creates obstacles to implementing science-based fisheries management.
Whilst the coastal and benthic (sea floor) environment in Sierra Leone and Liberia tends to be sandy or muddy, the issues linked to by-catch are nevertheless significant. Further, of the foreign, industrial pirate fishing vessels we have documented in the two countries over 90% are bottom trawlers to supply export markets.
3. Shrimp production
Since 2004, EJF has been investigating and raising awareness of the negative impacts of the shrimp industry, carrying out field investigations, working with grassroots activists and gathering personal testimonies from those affected by shrimp farming and processing.
We have documented, in our Farming the Sea, Costing the Earth and Desert in the Delta reports, the profound degradation of natural habitats, fisheries, freshwater supplies and farmlands and the impacts on communities in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil and Ecuador. The rapid expansion of commercial, export-oriented shrimp farming has carried considerable environmental costs in these places.
Evidence suggests that shrimp farming has been a major contributor to global mangrove loss. In the Mekong Delta’s Ca Mau province in Vietnam for example, mangrove cover fell from over 200,000 ha prior to 1975 to 60,000-70,000 ha in 2004, mainly due to shrimp aquaculture development. In Ecuador, it has been reported that of the 26.5% mangrove loss Ecuador’s Pacific coast experienced between 1969 and 1995, around 90% was due to shrimp farming.
The mangrove degradation and loss resulting from shrimp aquaculture brings with it a loss of critical ecological goods and services provided by mangrove ecosystems. Mangrove forests provide nursery grounds and refuges for a variety of fish, crustacean and mollusc species. As a result of habitat degradation, wild fish and shrimp stocks are depleted, with serious implications for marine biodiversity and food security. The loss of these critical habitats, and degradation of other wetland and marine ecosystems associated with shrimp farm development, have been linked to declines in capture fisheries.
4. Turtle and shark conservation in West Africa
We raise awareness within communities in West Africa of the benefits of an ecosystems-based approach to conservation, which recognises the vital interdependence of different species in the marine and coastal environment. Our work with local fishing communities in West Africa to stop illegal fishing promotes the protection of endangered and sensitive marine species.
EJF began a pilot Biodiversity Project in Westpoint, Liberia in 2013, building on relationships with local communities to investigate and influence the local catch of endangered species including sea turtles and several varieties of sharks. This project aims to collect data on sharks and rays landed by artisanal fishermen and assess the level of catch of endangered species such as the Great Hammerhead shark (endangered worldwide, IUCN Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species), and provide the results to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Bureau of National Fisheries to advocate for the introduction of new regulations and conservation measures to reduce the landing of protected species along the Liberian coast. EJF’s evidence has shown that the sharks’ fins are sold to brokers before they find their way onto the Asian markets.
EJF also works in Grand Cess, Liberia during the sea turtle nesting season to protect turtles and their eggs from poachers. In cooperation with local authorities, EJF organises night patrols on the beaches and conducts awareness-raising activities amongst fishermen communities.
We are working to expand our engagement of local communities, meeting a greater number of fishers in more widespread areas of West Africa to explain the vital importance of turtles and other threatened marine species to the ecosystem upon which many West Africans depend for their food security and their livelihoods.
5. Oysters for alternative livelihoods
EJF is promoting oyster production to support alternative livelihoods, food and greater environmental security for 2,000 people living in coastal communities in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone has resource-rich coastal waters, which should provide sustainable livelihoods and food security. However, as the country continues to recover from civil war, industrial Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing fleets target the waters knowing there is limited capacity for the Sierra Leone Government to monitor their coastal waters and enforce regulations.
The depletion of fish stocks as a result of industrial IUU fishing has been a major factor negatively affecting livelihoods and food security in Sierra Leone where over 80% of the population depend on fish as their main source of animal protein. EJF has worked in the Sherbro River Estuary (SRE) in Sierra Leone since 2008 to address industrial and artisanal IUU fishing and introduce the country’s first community-managed Marine Protected Area (MPA) to protect the marine environment and ensure long-term food security and livelihoods in these remote and vulnerable coastal communities.
Alongside reducing industrial IUU fishing, there is a clear need to ensure a sustainable alternative livelihood and source of protein to reduce the incentive for artisanal IUU fishing. This is particularly important in the Sherbro River Estuary as there are currently limited development initiatives in Bonthe partially due to its remote location.
Local populations, primarily women, collect and market wild oysters in most coastal areas by cutting mangroves where they naturally occur. Mangroves are a key breeding ground for fish and provide protection from coastal surges and as such, this is detrimental to the marine ecosystem and potentially dangerous for coastal communities. In addition, as the oysters are often harvested early, they are small and therefore market prices remain low.
Oysters are a well-balanced, easily digestible and nutritious food, rich in minerals and vitamins and the development of organised, small-scale commercial oyster cultivation can play a key role in protecting mangrove habitats, reducing pressure on recovering fish stocks and providing an essential alternative protein and livelihood for vulnerable communities.
Our aim is to develop organised oyster cultivation as a new sustainable source of income and protein for vulnerable coastal communities, and in particular women. This pilot project aims to highlight locally appropriate methods and organisation structures, with the intention of scaling and replicating the programme to other communities in the estuary and Sierra Leone, as well as to other countries EJF works in within the region.
The Sherbro River Estuary is estimated to have a population of 30,000, of which there are approximately 7,000 fishers, with a high proportion of the remainder working in associated trades. We will be working with the poorest members of fishing communities who do not have access to sea-going vessels. In these families, it is common for desperation for protein to lead men to fish in creeks using mosquito nets and other extremely damaging methods and for women to cut mangrove roots to collect oysters. Sustainable and larger scale oyster cultivation will provide these families with a more stable and augmented supply of protein, providing employment for women and allowing men to pursue other livelihoods that do not damage marine resources.
Back to Oceans overview