The fight against IUU (Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing) is one the main task of the French Armed forces in Guiana (FAG).
Coveted fishy waters
French Guiana coastline spreads over 234 mi (378 kilometres), offering the territory a 47,006 sq mi (121,746 km2) Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ). This area, abounding with fish and relatively abandoned by the local fishers, is surrounded by two less economically developed areas (Suriname and the State of Amapá, Brazil), where fishing activity is far more important. This situation creates a strong pressure on its resources, massively coveted by traditional, small-scale fishing vessels coming from neighbouring countries.
On the coast, mostly in the territorial waters (TTW), the high value of the weakfish swim bladder on the Asian market strengthens the profitability of IUU fishing. Offshore, the red snapper, unexploited by French fishermen, is caught by angling by forty-five Venezuelan trollers, benefiting from licences granted by the European Union. Among those are meddling illegals, along with crabbers from Guyana, using fish traps.
The French Forces in Guiana, a key role against IUU
In response to this constant pressure, monitoring waters under French sovereignty and jurisdiction is paramount. The French Forces in Guiana (FAG) naturally rely on satellite and air assets for this purpose. Regularly, the maritime surveillance aircraft Falcon-50M is deployed from mainland, in order to cover the entire EEZ. These flights are complemented by those performed by aircraft of the French Air and Space Force in Guiana, CASA CN-235 and helicopters.
Intelligence gathered by those observations provides guidance for the patrols achieved relentlessly by maritime assets sailing across French waters. French Navy’s Antilles-Guyane patrol ships (PAG) focus on the offshore and eastern fishing area, while inshore patrol vessels of the Gendarmerie Maritime mainly patrol along the coast.
The FAG maritime component, supported by the air assets, realises more than 100 boardings on IUU vessels each year; a unique level of activity in French overseas departments. The very nature of each of those actions widely differs depending on the target. Crews of the biggest Brazilian ships regularly strongly oppose the boarding, by throwing heavy objects such as gas bottles, wooden planks, fireworks. The FAG respond to this violence with professionalism and firmness. Naval riflemen and commandos (French special forces) are often used against this kind of opposition. In addition to those specific means, the regular boarding teams of the maritime assets perform the majority of the boardings against compliant crews.
In order to enhance the impact of those actions, the FAG maintain a close dialogue with the administrations in charge, ashore, of the legal finish: Gendarmerie Maritime, Police, and Prosecutors. The aim is to assert a firm response to illegal activities, in order to deter crews from offending again. The first step is the seizure of the catch and the fishing gear. If the offence is repeated or if the crew has resorted to violence, the ship itself can be seized and destroyed. Violent crewmembers are brought to justice and usually condemned to unconditional prison sentences.
However, if the FAG are the main contributor, the repressive strand of the fight against IUU fishing in French Guiana is not the only response to the issue. The low exploitation of the fishery resources by the French fishermen, due to the weak development of this professional sector, is one of the roots of the problem of IUU fishing. The French Guianese fleet is composed by only a hundred of licenced vessels and around 400 professional fishermen, compared to 1200 in Suriname and tens of thousands in Brazilian northern States. Moreover, among those 400 fishermen, 90% are foreigners, as the young Guianese people are not interested in joining the profession. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the local, legal fishing activity has to be structured in order to regain a field left apart.
In addition, strengthening an international cooperation with Guyana, Suriname and Brazil is paramount in order to enable a more effective struggle against their national vessels fishing illegally in French waters. Besides, improvement of the information exchange with those countries can help them to increase the knowledge of their fishing fleets in order to better control and prevent them to come to French waters.