Uniting and activating powerful voices for ocean conservation

Tracking illegal fishing vessels in West African waters

Duncan Copeland –

We were driving down a water front road when we spotted a vessel anchored off the port of Lomé in Togo. It was painted a dull green, with a distinctive shaped bridge. Our analysts are familiar with many of the industrial fishing vessels that operate in West Africa – this one looked unusual, but also naggingly familiar.

We hopped out of the car and ran across the beach to the water’s edge. Photos were taken, and the process of identifying who this boat belonged to could be begin. One of the first candidates on our list was RAY – a notorious poacher vessel, placed on a risk vessel list for fishing illegally in the Southern Ocean in 2006, and more recently in the Southeast Atlantic.

Satellite tracking had indicated the possible presence of this vessel in West Africa more than once over the past few years, but there had been no confirmation until now. Comparison of our photos with images of RAY secured years earlier showed multiple structural consistencies – this looked like a match.

We were in Togo to help the authorities set up inter-agency cooperation on fisheries controls, and the opportunity to put this into practise was too good to miss. Working together for the first time, the fisheries, port and Navy departments boarded the vessel and obtained documentation to prove its identity (and new name, YELE). While there were no indications that the vessel had acted illegally whilst in Togolese waters, the authorities decided that the risk of illegal fishing was too high.

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