During August 2017, SADC Council of Ministers at their meeting held in Pretoria, South Africa, approved the Charter establishing the SADC Regional Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance Coordination Centre (MCSCC) in Mozambique. This was a real turning point for the region in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

SADC Ministers responsible for Fisheries, at their Joint meeting of Environment and Natural Resources, Fisheries and Aquaculture, and Tourism held during November 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa, started showing real commitment to the establishment of the Centre by signing the Charter. So far, Ministers from the Kingdom of Lesotho, Kingdom of Swaziland, Republic of Mozambique, Republic of South Africa, Republic of Zambia and the United Republic of Tanzania have signed the Charter, and other Ministers have also pronounced their commitment to signing in due course. Ministers also tasked the SADC Secretariat to explore closer cooperation with the Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF) Secretariat by exploring incorporation of FISH-i Africa into the MCSCC currently under development in Mozambique.

The Centre has been developed in response to the high economic losses experienced in the region where illegal fishing has been estimated to cost SADC members in excess of USD 200 million annually, as well as having a negative impact on livelihoods of the people who depend on fisheries in the region.

SIF has coordinated FISH-i Africa since 2012, when the regional fisheries enforcement Task Force for countries bordering the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) became operational. By pooling information, coordinating actions and undertaking investigations, FISH-i has spearheaded a string of enforcement actions and increased compliance in the fisheries sector. The success of FISH-i Africa has been commended regionally and internationally as the value of working together and with increased transparency is shown to be effective in challenging illegal operators.

Chair of Stop Illegal Fishing, Elsa da Gloria Patria welcomed the opportunity for the potential integration of FISH-i into the Regional Centre. “The eight members of the FISH-i Task Force have shown real commitment to working together as a region. There would be clear benefits to the Task Force being part of the SADC MCSCC; bringing established methods of working to the Centre would increase the early operational impact of the Centre. The mandate to work more closely with major ports, such as Angola, Namibia and South Africa adds real strength to our network. We know that illegal operators target areas with the weakest systems; this move makes us stronger!”

The SADC Fisheries Advisor, Dr Motseki Hlatshwayo stated, “Stop Illegal Fishing has been a strong supporter of SADC Fisheries Programme and has helped to lay the foundation for the SADC MCSCC. We look forward to developing this cooperation further and hope to see the incorporation of FISH-i Africa into the Centre. This will bring a real momentum to the Centre as we integrate an established and proven system for cooperation and information exchange to kick-start activities of the Centre.”

Sandy Davies, Stop Illegal Fishing Coordinator, said, “Since the signing of the ‘2008 SADC Statement of Commitment to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing’, we have been looking forward to the launch of the regional centre to gather and coordinate our efforts to fight illegal fishing. This week’s signing of the Charter to establish the centre provides a new momentum that we must harness. We look forward to expanding FISH-i to cooperate with countries of the South East Atlantic Ocean. Sharing lessons, skills and tools with inland countries offers an exciting opportunity to tackle the illegal catching and trade of fish that is threatening the sustainability of so many important inland fisheries.”

To kick-start the collaboration, the SADC Secretariat will assess the possibility of incorporating FISH-i Africa into the MCSCC. In addition the SADC Task Force on IUU Fishing as well as the FISH-i Africa Task Force will from 2018 hold meetings together to align their work programmes. The Task Forces will assist in steering the work of the MCSCC and strengthen regional platforms for cooperation and collaboration in the fight against IUU fishing.

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This article has been prepared by Mr. Per Erik Bergh on behalf of the Stop Illegal Fishing Secretariat and Dr. Motseki Hlatshwayo on behalf of the SADC Secretariat.