Old Norwegian fishing vessels end up in Africa

A new report reveals that there is a large-scale export of old Norwegian fishing vessels to vulnerable waters along the African coast. 8 ended up outside occupied Western Sahara.

Published 26 April 2023

The above illustration from Global Fishing Watch shows traces of old Norwegian vessels off the coast of occupied Western Sahara.

When Norwegian fishing vessels "expire" they are sold to the coast of Africa, where they are used in fisheries in vulnerable waters.

As many as 47 old Norwegian fishing boats have found their way to the waters off the coast of Africa in the last 25 years.

This is revealed in a report published by the Nature Conservancy, the Support Committee for Western Sahara and the Joint Council for Africa.

Download the report here (or in Norwegian). (The English version of this report was published on 23 December 2023.) 

Based on access to data obtained from the Norwegian Ship Register, we checked the whereabouts of hundreds vessels that had been deleted from the register.

Several of the states where the old vessels are today have highly inadequate management of their fisheries stocks. Several of the ships come there to participate in export-oriented industrial fishing, in competition with small-scale fishermen who normally deliver fish to the local markets. There is thus a connection between the Norwegian quota system on the one hand and food security in many places in Africa on the other.

The average age of the ships that have been sold from Norway and then ended up in African waters is currently 37 years.

“It can often be difficult to know where boats that are sold eventually end up, but that does not mean that Norwegian shipping companies are free from responsibility. The practice of selling decommissioned fishing boats to African countries shows that the routines in Norwegian shipping companies are not good enough”, write the leaders of the Nature Conservation Association, the Norwegian Council for Africa and the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara in an opinion piece in Fiskeribladet.

“There has been a rapid development in the knowledge when it comes to large ships and players scrapping ships in South Asia. With this report, we will shed a spotlight on a similar issue, the sale of decommissioned fishing boats with the environmental footprint that entails”, says Erik Hagen, director of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, to Fiskeribladet.

Exports to occupied Western Sahara are particularly controversial. Fishing is carried out on licenses issued by the Moroccan occupation authorities.

The report makes a series of recommendations to the authorities and industry.

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