FISH-i Africa Is Proving That Coastal Countries Can Halt Large-Scale Illegal Fishing

06/01/2015 09:50 am ET | Updated May 29, 2016
©Kash Halford

The Seychelles has been fighting illegal fishing for many years. The Western Indian Ocean is home to the world's second-largest tuna fishery, making it a hotspot for illegal fishing with an estimated one in four fish caught illegally. Illegal-fishing operators are able to profit off their illicit activities because they operate in flexible and quickly maneuverable networks that enable them to capitalize on the weaknesses in national and international systems. The Seychelles government is already actively engaged in various activities to stop illegal fishing in the waters of the region with all partners concerned. We needed an equally flexible and maneuverable system in our region. FISH-i Africa, a network of seven countries, fills the gap facilitating cooperation between seven countries, regional organizations and international experts. Together we present a formidable force against illegal-fishing operators.

Seychelles has a vast exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.3 million square kilometers and limited surveillance resources. With the future prosperity of our nation tied to the success of our "Blue Economy," the Seychelles is determined to tackle this issue more effectively. Since 2012, in response to this challenge, Seychelles joined together with six other Southeast African coastal countries along the Western Indian Ocean -- Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Tanzania -- to build FISH-i-Africa. Initiated by Stop Illegal Fishing, an African-based not-for-profit organization funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts' Ending Illegal Fishing Project and with advice from technical, operational and legal experts, FISH-i Africa has quickly proved to be the most effective means we have to eradicate illegal fishing.

FISH-i Africa really is a pioneer initiative. It has developed a network for our seven neighboring countries to work together and share information, using cutting-edge satellite technology to identify and track down illegal operators, act against them and eventually turn illegal fishing from a low-risk/high-reward business into the opposite. By sharing information on vessel licensing, movements and suspected illegal-fishing incidents, the experts utilize advanced systems and techniques to track vessels and secure information to assist the countries with building cases and deciding what action to take.

The results to date have been impressive; in its first two years the FISH-i Africa Task Force took action against several notorious illegal-fishing operators, resulting in nearly 3 million USD collected in fines. Our countries stood together and collectively denied fishing licenses or port access to vessels found to have been engaged in illegal-fishing activities and avoiding sanctions, resulting in the necessary fines being paid. Other vessels involved in illegal fishing have been deflagged. Those fishing with forged licenses have been identified and prosecuted, leading the former illegal operators to now follow our rules. Vessels operating under false identities have been identified and the operators have been charged.

With successes like this, Seychelles is now well placed to harness the full potential of its "Blue Economy." I have no doubt that FISH-i Africa works: we are working together; we are sharing intelligence and we are acting as one. It is no longer easy and profitable for fishing operators to use illegal practices and to plunder our waters, undermining sustainable fisheries and ocean health. We have shown that our countries in the Western Indian Ocean are committed to identify the wrongdoers and act against them. We have developed trust with one another that was not there before and this pooling of information and resources means we can out maneuver the illegal operators.

Of course there is still more to do. We would welcome more countries into our Task Force and I hope that one day we will see a FISH-i-Global: a network of more regional FISH-i's that would help to stop illegal fishing worldwide.

Wallace Cosgrow is the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture of the Seychelles.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with World Oceans Day (June 8), as part of HuffPost's "What's Working" initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that are solutions oriented. To read all the posts in the series, read here.