By Momodou Jarju
The Gambia Government has since 2018 intercepted thirty-two (32) fishing vessels for violating their licensing conditions, the Minister of Fisheries and Water Resources and National Assembly Matters, James Gomez told lawmakers in Banjul recently.
“From 2018 to date a total of 32 arrests were made involving 21 Gambian registered vessels, two (2) Senegalese, six (6) Chinese and three (3) Turkish vessels respectively,” the minister said.
Minister Gomez’s remarks were in response to a question posed by Kaing West lawmaker, Fakebba N.L. Colley, who asked the minister to inform the assembly the number of foreign vessels that were illegally fishing in the country’s sea and were intercepted by the Gambian Navy since 2018 to date and their country of origin.
Minister Gomez informed the assembly that the fishing vessels intercepted were all legally authorized or licensed to fish in the exclusive economic zone, but they violated the licensing conditions which resulted to their arrest.
Gomez explained that upon the arrest of the crew, they received reports from the Gambian Navy and the Department of Fisheries and then wrote to the owners of the vessels, stating their intention of taking them to court.
“Most of the time they would write to us and say we will want to settle this out of court. In that case, we have a committee, consisting of the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Fisheries and the Navy. So that committee will meet and discuss what the penalties are and they would recommend to me that this is the kind of penalty they are recommending. Most of the time, whatever they recommended is what prevails,” he said.
Upper Niumi lawmaker, Omar Darboe asked the minister whether the arrestees were fined and the amount of money the ministry gained to that effect. The Minister responded in the positive.
“Is 9.5 million, and over 50 million on 10%,” he told the lawmakers.
Gomez said the figure is for 2020 and the figure of the two previous years was not provided to the assembly.
Minister Gomez emphasized that the unregistered vessels were not those that committed offences. He added that in most instances, it was the vessels that were registered that committed crimes.
“The vessels that are not registered know they can lose their vessels if they come and fish without a license. So they don’t come near us. It is those who have license that have committed crime,” he said.
Fatoumatta Njia, Banjul South lawmaker asked the minister whether there were different forms of violations, and the minister responded in the negative.
Gomez said the law, unfortunately, is vague.
“If you are arrested, you are brought before the committee or you are brought before the court. It does not specify this is what the findings for this kind of crime or that kind of crime is and it is not only one type of crime they have,” he said.
He said they are engaging the minister of justice to help specify penalties to offenders.
Gomez said this would ease the work of all and sundry, but he added that Covid-19 has halted the progress of finalizing the regulation.
Suwabou Touray, Wuli East lawmaker asked the minister to give the reason behind settling cases of crimes committed by fishing vessels out of court and the Minister replied that the vessels owners don’t prefer going to court.
He said court cases take time and while the matter is before the court, the vessel owner cannot go for fishing.
“Secondly, it is provided for in our regulation that you can choose to write to ‘say you want to settle it out of court’ and most of the times most of them don’t want to go to court even if it is not fishing. So they would rather come and negotiate than be taken to court and that is why they opt to come and negotiate,” Minister Gomez said.