A large fleet of Iranian fishing vessels has been identified operating illegally in Somalian waters for over a year, depleting fish stocks in a country where one in three people face acute shortages of food.
The Somali government, which is unable to police its vast coastline, has expressed concern over food and maritime security and has called on Iran to investigate.
Analysis by Global Fishing Watch, a nonprofit which tracks vessels, and Trygg Mat Tracking, an NGO which provides fisheries intelligence and analysis to African coastal states to help fight illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, suggests it could be one of the largest illegal fishing operations in the world.
The Somali government has shared its analysis with the Iranian authorities and the fisheries watchdog, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).
Evidence gathered by the NGOs suggests the Iranian fleet could contain 192 vessels, six times the size of the 31-vessel Chinese tuna fleet licensed to fish sustainably in Somalia waters.
They say the Iranian fleet has been operating in Somalia and also in Yemen, from January 2019 until April 2020. Some were discovered fishing close to shore, inside a zone set aside for the nation’s artisanal fishermen.
HE Abdillahi Bidhan Warsame, the minister of fisheries and marine resources of Somalia, called for cooperation from Iran. He said: “Illegal fishing will not be tolerated by Somalia. The situation related to presence of the Iranian fleets in Somali waters, remains a longstanding concern of the Federal Republic of Somalia, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Somali waters constitutes a significant threat to the food security, economic development, sovereignty and maritime ecology of Somalia.”
Somalia’s 15 million people are currently experiencing multiple threats to food security, including an ongoing desert locust plague and previous droughts which have caused flash floods as well as Covid-19. The UN has warned an estimated 2.7 million people are facing crisis levels of food insecurity, without humanitarian aid, while a further 2.9 million are food stressed.