Fourth Trawler Arrested in The Gambia After Scuffle with Local Fishermen

Thursday, 31 Aug, 2023

A week after an armed detachment of law enforcement agents from The Gambia Navy stationed on board the Sea Shepherd Global vessel Age of Union arrested three trawlers for fishing illegally in waters reserved for artisanal fishermen, a fourth trawler was arrested after a scuffle ensued between small-scale fishers and the crew on board an industrialized fishing vessel that ran over a net that had been deployed by canoe. Pushing and shoving ensured when the small-scale fishers boarded the trawler demanding compensation and calling for the Ministry of Defence to have the trawler arrested. 

Majilac 3 with Age of Union small boat. Photo by Max Ludolf/Sea Shepherd Global.

The Age of Union was immediately dispatched to the scene but arrived after the artisanal fishermen had disembarked. They were not compensated for the lost net. 

“In The Gambia, the price of an artisanal fishing net can amount to six months of salary. It costs a full month’s salary to pay the fees to send one child to school. The loss of a net, which is tiny in fishing impact compared to industrialized trawl lets, can financially sink a family, indebting them to merchants who sell them new nets on marked up payment plans”, said Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd’s Director of Campaigns.  

When the law enforcement agents boarded the trawler—named Majilac 03—from the Age of Union small boat, they discovered that the vessel was carrying two different sets of registration documents, making the identity of the ship impossible to verify. The vessel was also transmitting a third identity through electronic means using their automatic identification system (AIS), essentially a legally-mandated location transponder. 

When the fishing gear was inspected, the mesh size was not only undersized, but the net had been double-bagged to further reduce possibilities for undersized fish to escape. Undersized fish were detected in the fish holds.  

Majilac 03 was placed under arrest and was escorted to the Port of Banjul by Age of Union where it joined the three other industrialized trawlers still in detention. 

The Ministry of Defense routinely receives reports of industrialized trawlers fishing in no-go zones reserved for the over 300,000 Gambians who depend on artisanal and small-scale fisheries for their livelihoods.  

This is particularly troubling because industrialized trawlers take far more fish than fishers in paddle canoes can. To protect local communities, the government of The Gambia instituted a 9-nautical mile inshore exclusion zone that prohibits industrialized fishing, waters referred to as the Special Management Area.   

The arrest of three industrialized trawlers at the outset of Operation Gambian Coastal Defense—a renewed 5-year partnership between Sea Shepherd Global and the Gambian Ministry of Defence to conduct at-sea patrols—shows that the practice of fishing in these areas is commonplace and that increased patrols made possible through Operation Gambian Coastal Defense are necessary.  

Catch on board Majilac 3. Photo by Max Ludolf/Sea Shepherd Global.
Fish drying on board Majilac 3. Photo by Maël Chausseblanche/Sea Shepherd Global
The Gambia Navy sailor on board Majilac 3. Photo by Maël Chausseblanche/Sea Shepherd Global
The Gambia Navy sailor on board Majilac 3. Photo by Max Ludolf/Sea Shepherd Global.
Catch on board Majilac 3. Photo by Max Ludolf/Sea Shepherd Global.

Operation Gambian Coastal Defense is a unique partnership with the government of The Gambia that started in 2019 to conduct joint at sea patrols to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Since 2016, Sea Shepherd has worked in partnership with the governments of Gabon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tanzania, Benin, Namibia and The Gambia to combat IUU fishing by providing the use of civilian offshore patrol vessels to African coastal and island States so that authorities can enforce fisheries regulations and conservation laws in their sovereign waters. To date, the unique partnerships have resulted in the arrest of 86 vessels for illegal fishing and other fisheries crimes. 

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