Disaggregating illegal fishing losses for the 22 countries of the West African Coast


The 22 countries of the Western African coast constitute one of the world’s most vulnerable regions for illegal fishing. Much is known about the region’s losses to illegal fishing, but less about the losses experienced by the region’s individual countries when compared in relation to each other. Guided by environmental criminology, these losses are examined in terms of lost protein and lost revenue. Seven of the countries suffer loss of protein. Chinese vessels are the most prevalent predators, fishing illegally in six of these countries. Only three of the 22 countries suffer loss of revenue, most of which is lost to vessels from other West African countries. Guinea and Guinea Bissau experience both problems. Only a handful of countries suffer disproportionately more than the rest of the countries in the region. Country-specific policy solutions should be devised to address the problems in these vulnerable target countries.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo.

  2. 2.

    MRAG (2010)’s study of illegal fishing in eight countries (Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone) that used FAO methodology followed the steps of an environmental criminology assessment.

  3. 3.

    Many studies in the past have used unreported catches as a measure of illegal catches (see, for example, Pramod et al. (2017) and Ganapathiraju et al. (2019)), because unreported removals are essentially unauthorized/illegal.

  4. 4.

    Available at http://www.itfglobal.org/en/transport-sectors/seafarers/in-focus/flags-of-convenience-campaign/.


  1. Agnew, D.J., J. Pearce, G. Pramod, T. Peatman, R. Watson, J.R. Beddington, and T.J. Pitcher. 2009. Estimating the worldwide extent of illegal fishing. PLoS One 4 (2): e4570.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Alder, J., and U.R. Sumaila. 2004. Western Africa: A fish basket of Europe past and present. Journal of Environment and Development 13 (2): 156–178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. AU IBAR (2018). Impact of international fish trade flows in Africa. AU IBAR Reports. Available at http://www.au-ibar.org/component/jdownloads/finish/5-gi/3386-impact-of-international-fish-trade-flows-in-africa.

  4. Belhabib, D., V. Koutob, A. Sall, V.W. Lam, and D. Pauly. 2014. Fisheries catch misreporting and its implications: the case of Senegal. Fisheries Research 151: 1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Belhabib, D., Sumaila, U.R. & Pauly, D. (2015a). Feeding the poor: contribution of West African fisheries to employment and food security. Ocean and Coastal Management, 111: 72–81.

  6. Belhabib, D., U.R. Sumaila, V.W. Lam, et al. 2015b. Euros vs. Yuan: comparing European and Chinese fishing access in West Africa. PLoS One 10: e0118351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Belhabib, D., Greer, K. & Pauly, D. (2017). Trends in industrial and artisanal catch per effort in West African fisheries. Conservation Letters, March, 0(0): 1–10.

  8. Brower-Berkhoven, J. 2014. A view from the West: illegal fishing in West Africa: a symptom of a wider problem. Canadian Naval Review 10 (4): 36–37.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Clarke, R.V., & de By, R.A. (2013). Poaching, habitat loss and the decline of neotropical parrots: a comparative spatial analysis. Journal of Experimental Criminology. 9(3), 333–353.

  10. Clarke, R.V. and Eck, J. (2005) ‘Crime analysis for problem solvers. In 60 Small Steps’. Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

  11. Clarke, R.V., Chetty, K., & Natarajan, M. (2014). Eyes on the forest: CCTV and ecotourism in Indian tiger reserves. In Lemieux, AM (ed.), Situational prevention of poaching. London: Routledge.

  12. Daniels, A., Gutiérrez, M., Ganjul, G., Guereña, A., Matheson, I. & Watkins, K. (2016). Western Africa’s missing fish: the impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and under-reporting catches by foreign Fleets. Overseas Development Institute. Available at https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/10665.pdf. 0.

  13. Doughty, R.W., and V. Carmichael. 2011. The albatross and the fish: linked lives in the open seas. The University of Texas Press.

  14. Doumbouya, A., O.T. Camara, J. Mamie, J.F. Intchama, A. Jarra, S. Ceesay, A. Guèye, D. Ndiaye, E. Beibou, A. Padilla, and D. Belhabib. 2017. Assessing the effectiveness of monitoring, control and surveillance of illegal fishing: the case of West Africa. Frontiers in Marine Science 4: 1–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. FAO (2018). Technical guidelines on methodologies and indicators for the estimation of the magnitude and impact of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Volume 2 – Guiding Principles and Approaches. Available at http://www.fao.org/3/CA0458EN/ca0458en.pdf. Accessed Jan 2020.

  16. Ganapathiraju, P., T.J. Pitcher, and G. Mantha. 2019. Estimates of illegal and unreported seafood imports to Japan. Marine Policy. 108: 103439.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Greenpeace (2015). Africa’s fisheries’ paradise at a crossroads: investigating Chinese companies’ illegal fishing practices in West Africa. Available at http://www.greenpeace.org/africa/Global/africa/graphics/Scam%20on%20the%20African%20Coast/AFRICA’S%20FISHERIES’%20PARADISE%20AT%20A%20CROSSROADS_FULL%20REPORT.pdf. Accessed Jan 2020.

  18. Ighobor, K. (2017). African waters are powerful magnets for illegal and unregulated foreign fishing operations. Africa renewal online. Available at http://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/may-july-2017/overfishing-destroying-livelihoods. Accessed Jan 2020.

  19. Jacobs, A. (April 30, 2017). China’s appetite pushes fisheries to the brink. The New York Times. Asia Pacific.

  20. Kacsynski, V.M. & Fluharty, D.L. (2002). European policies in West Africa: who benefits from fisheries agreements? Marine Policy, 26, 75–93.

  21. Kim, J.H., Clarke, R.V., & Miller, J. (2014). Poaching and tiger populations in Indian reserves. In Lemieux, AM (ed.), Situational prevention of poaching. London: Routledge.

  22. Kroodsma, D. A., Miller, N. A., & Roan A. 2017. “The global view of transshipment: revised preliminary findings.” Global Fishing Watch and SkyTruth, July 2017.Available online at http://globalfishingwatch.org. Accessed Jan 2020.

  23. Lemieux, A.M., and R.V. Clarke. 2009. The international ban on ivory sales and its effects on elephant poaching in Africa. The British Journal of Criminology 49 (4): 451–471.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. McCauley, D.J., C. Jablonicky, E.H. Allison, C.D. Golden, F.H. Joyce, J. Mayorga, and D. Kroodsma. 2018. Wealthy countries dominate industrial fishing. Science Advances 4: eaau2161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Moreto, W. D. and Pires S. F. (2018) Wildlife crime: an environmental criminology and crime science perspective. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press.

  26. MRAG (2005). Review of Impacts of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing on Developing Countries. Final Report. Report prepared by Marine Resources Assessment Group. Available at https://mrag.co.uk/experience/review-impacts-illegal-unreported-and-unregulated-iuu-fishingdeveloping-countries.

  27. MRAG (2010). Estimation of the cost of illegal fishing in West Africa. Final Report. West Africa Regional Fisheries Project. Available at http://livebettermagazine.com/eng/reports_studies/pdf/Estimation_of_The_Cost_of_Illegal_Fishing_in_West_Africa_Final_report_20100513.pdf. Accessed Jan 2020.

  28. Ndiaye, T.M. 2011. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: responses in general and in West Africa. Chinese Journal of International Law: 373–405.

  29. OCEANA (2017). Fishing the Boundaries of Law: How the Exclusivity Clause in EU Fisheries Agreements was Undermined. Available at http://usa.oceana.org/publications/reports/fishing-boundaries-law-how-exclusivity-clause-eu-fisheries-agreements-was. Accessed Jan 2020.

  30. Overseas Development Institute (2016) Western Africa’s missing fish. London https://www.odi.org/publications/10459-western-africas-missing-fish-impacts-illegal-unreported-and-unregulated-fishing-and-under-reporting. Accessed Jan 2020.

  31. Pauly, D. & Zeller, D., eds (2014). So long, and thanks for all the fish: the Sea Around Us, 1999–2014 – a fifteen-year retrospective. A Sea Around Us Report to The Pew Charitable Trusts, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

  32. Petrossian, G.A. 2018. A micro-spatial analysis of opportunities for IUU fishing in 23 Western African countries. Biological Conservation 225: 31–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Petrossian, G.A., and R.V. Clarke. 2013. Explaining and controlling illegal commercial fishing: an application of the CRAVED theft model. British Journal of Criminology 54 (1): 73–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Petrossian, G.A., N. Marteache, and J. Viollaz. 2015. Where do “undocumented” fish land? An empirical assessment of port characteristics for IUU fishing. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 21 (3): 337–351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Phelps Bondaroff, T.N., van der Werf, W. & Reitano, T. (2015). The illegal fishing and organized crime nexus: illegal fishing as transnational organized crime. The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime; and Blackfish. Available at https://www.unodc.org/documents/congress/background-information/NGO/GIATOC-Blackfish/Fishing_Crime.pdf. Accessed Jan 2020.

  36. Pires, S.F., and R.V. Clarke. 2011. Sequential foraging, itinerant fences and parrot poaching in Bolivia. The British Journal of Criminology 51 (2): 314–335.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Pires, S., and R.V. Clarke. 2012. Are parrots CRAVED? An analysis of parrot poaching in Mexico. Journal of research in crime and delinquency 49 (1): 122–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Pramod, G., T.J. Pitcher, and G. Mantha. 2017. Estimates of illegal and unreported seafood imports to Japan. Marine Policy 84: 42–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Rengert, G. (2004) The journey to crime. In Bruinsma, G., Elfers, H. and de Keijser, J. (eds) Punishment places and perpetrators. London and New York: Routledge.

  40. Roos, N, Wahab, M. A., Chamnan, C. H. H. O. U. N., and Thilsted, S. H. (2006). Understanding the links between agriculture and health.

  41. Sumaila, U.R. 2018. Illicit trade in the marine resources of West Africa. Ghana Journal of Economics 6: 108–116.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Sumaila, U.R., D. Zeller, L. Hood, M.L.D. Paromares, Y. Li, and D. Pauly. 2020. Illicit trade in marine fish catch and its effects on ecosystems and people worldwide. Science Advances 6 (9): eaaz3801.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Weekers, D.P., and R. Zahnow. 2018. Risky facilities: analysis of illegal recreational fishing in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology 0004865818804021.

  44. Weekers, D.P., R. Zahnow, and L. Mazerolle. 2019. Conservation criminology: modelling offender target selection for illegal fishing in marine protected areas. The British Journal of Criminology.

  45. Wortley, R., and M. Townsley, eds. 2016. Environmental criminology and crime analysis. Vol. 18. Taylor & Francis.

  46. Ye, Y., and N.L. Gutierrez. 2017. Ending fishery overexploitation by expanding from local success to globalized solutions. Nature Ecology & Evolution: 1. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0179.

Download references


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gohar A. Petrossian.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Petrossian, G.A., Clarke, R.V. Disaggregating illegal fishing losses for the 22 countries of the West African Coast. Maritime Studies (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40152-020-00197-9

Download citation


  • West Africa
  • Illegal fishing
  • Environmental criminology
  • Sea Around Us Project
  • Fishing access agreements
  • Crime prevention
  • Harm to artisanal fisheries