The livelihoods of local fishermen are increasingly threatened by the many industrial trawlers from Europe, China, Korea and Russia, which often operate illegally in Guinea's once-abundant waters.
"The exclusive zones that are reserved for local fishing should be recognised by the industrial boats and they should stay away from them because their presence is causing a lot of economic and social problems,” Souba Camara, a government port official in Conakry told IRIN.
He said it is illegal for industrial boats to fish in areas near the shore designated for local fisherman but the laws are largely ignored.
Enforcing the laws would not just benefit a few fishermen, Camara said. "A local fisherman may have 50 people depending on the earnings from his net."
Almost none of the large industrial boats in Guinea's waters are owned by Guineans.
The government is also losing revenue for what is one of the world’s poorest countries. More than US$100 million worth of fish are pirated out of Guinea's waters each year, according to a study by London-based Marine Resources Assessment Group.
But it is the local fishermen who are feeling the loss most. “If we could fix this situation so that the big boats stay in their assigned zones away from us [local fishermen] we would be able to do our work,” fisherman Mamadou Camara said.
“If not, we may not have fish left in our zone within a year.”
Photo: Nicolas Colombant/IRIN
|Middlemen converge on a returning boat to bid for fish near Conakry|
Guinea’s government has tried to ban the export of some species of fish to increase their availability in local markets. However, fishermen IRIN talked with said this just opened the door for more illegal international trade and diminished their earnings further.
The government does not have the means to monitor its waters, Souba Camara, the port official, said.
In 2003 authorities attempted a project in which local fishermen used radios to report sightings of pirate ships and other illegal activity to various control posts along the coast, but the initiative lacked funding and in 2006 stopped functioning, the chairman of the Guinea association of local fishermen, Issiaga Daffe told IRIN.
Daffe called for renewed monitoring efforts by the government and donors and micro-financing for fishermen.
The safety of fishermen is also a growing concern. The number of boating accidents has increased with the growth in illegal fishing, as many of the illegal boats operate at night without lights. “There have been cases of people being killed,” Souba Camara, the official, said.
Despite the increased risks and decreased revenue the fishermen say they have no alternatives but to continue their work. "Fishing is all I know,” said Souriba Camara, who owns a three-man wooden boat named “Have Confidence” and hails from a long line of fishermen.
“Fishing is who I am,” he said.