Environmental Justice Foundation seeks a solution with the Dase app to battle illegal fishing

Fishermen learning how to use Dase app. Photo by EJF, used with permission.

As darkness gradually descends, a boat finds itself in an unsettling encounter with a trawler.

The government-approved military personnel aboard the trawler menacingly brandish their guns toward our boat. “Hastily, we raise our hands in surrender, shouting on top of our voices that we were not pirates, but a community surveillance and monitoring group,” Stephen Zacheus Nodem, the President of Mouanko Fishermen Association, narrated the harrowing incident off the coast of Mouanko in the Sanaga Maritime Division, Littoral region of Cameroon

“As our boat speeds away, we notice the crew on the trawler dumping dead fish into the waters near the coast,” added the fisherman.

This incident is an illustration of trawler incursion and destructive, irregular, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the vicinity of the Douala-Edea Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).  

Mouanko -Sanaga-Martime-Littoral Region. Photo by Leocadia Bongben, used with permission.

According to Global Voices, investigations reveal that not only do EU-registered vessels use flags of convenience to conceal IUU fishing practices, but they also overexploit and export small pelagic fish in Cameroon waters.

As emphasized in a report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), destructive fishing (IUU fishing) threatens marine environments and the people who rely on them. The report further highlighted that small-scale fisheries contribute significantly, employing 90 percent of those engaged in capture fisheries. Furthermore, IUU fishing deprives countries of their marine resources and undermine efforts to sustainably manage fisheries. 

To stop the erosion of the marine coastal ecology, Cameroon established Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 2018. Despite this initiative, experts note that trawler incursions into MPAs have been persistent, resulting in the devastation of fish populations, marine habitats, and artisanal fishermen's equipment. This not only threatens the livelihoods of local communities but also poses a risk to the entire coastal ecosystem.

The capacity of  Cameroonian ministries overseeing the industry, including Livestock and Fisheries, as well as Forestry and Wildlife, is severely limited in their ability to effectively prohibit and deter industrial trawlers from intruding into these protected areas.

In light of this, EJF is collaborating with the government to provide community-based surveillance assistance, aiming to prevent illicit fishing operations, especially incursions by industrial trawlers, within the Douala-Edéa National Park's marine protected area.

With funding from Ocean 5, a three-year project focused on efficient MPAs and combating illegal industrial trawling in Cameroon was launched in 2022. EJF, in partnership with the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and the Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society (CWCS), is actively working to establish robust community-based surveillance. An additional project has assisted the government in amending the legislation to include provisions for collaborative monitoring. 

Cameroon- Dase App to document destructive fishing

To enhance community monitoring and surveillance efforts, EJF introduced the Dase Cameroon app in late 2023. The name Dase means evidence, and it originates from the Fante dialect spoken in Ghana, where the app was first launched.  

Dase is a smartphone application developed and maintained by EJF, enabling users to capture video or photo evidence of destructive IUU fishing in real-time, regardless of internet connection.

DASE Cameroon app. Photo by EJF, used with permission.

Explaining the functionality, Steve Trent, EJF's director, said, “Users simply need to open the Dase app on the Collect software platform, take a photo of the boat with its name or identification number visible, and record the position when observing a vessel damaging canoes, gear, or engaging in unlawful fishing. The software then automates the process by submitting the report to a central database, empowering authorities to make arrests or impose sanctions on perpetrators.”

He added that the software is tailored to meet local requirements, enabling fishing communities to take proactive measures to safeguard the environment and their vital resources. EJF provided comprehensive training on the utilization and protection of the app before its deployment to fishermen, complemented by prior courses on maritime safety and first aid. Additionally, the organization distributed safety vests, life jackets, binoculars, and watertight pouches to protect fishermen's phones during the distribution process.

The fishermen receive training on first aid and safety at sea. Photo by EJF, used with permission.

Orimisan Omoruy, the head of the Mbiako fishermen's organization, expressed appreciation for the Dase app, stating, “The knowledge and experience will help us report trawler incursions and help protect our main source of livelihood as well as our fishing equipment.”

Acknowledging the impact of the acquired knowledge, Eitel Pandong, conservator of the Douala-Edéa National Park, remarked, “With the knowledge we've gained, I believe we'll be able to strengthen our surveillance efforts to detect and deter IUU fishing and other illicit activities in the Douala-Edéa National Park.” He emphasized the need for increased operational capacity for more effectiveness.

The fishermen also urged EJF to follow up on information supplied by them and requested assistance from EJF in regaining their ruined equipment from trawlers.

The Dase app has proven effective in combating IUU fishing in Ghana, Liberia, and Senegal, where several small-scale fishermen and local authorities have joined forces to fight against IUU fishing. 

To eradicate IUU fishing, local authorities must support the app's main functions and collaborate with the government and other partners. In light of this, on October 20, 2023, Cyrille Yvan Abondo, the chief divisional officer for the Sanaga-Maritime, signed a document establishing the first-ever participatory commission to supervise IUU fishing.

EJF is also a founding member of the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency and has educated journalists in Cameroon to cover fisheries-related stories. As part of this alliance, the foundation supports the Global Charter for Transparency, endorsed by Steve Trent, as a collection of feasible, cost-effective measures to bring fisheries into the open and ensure a healthy, safe ocean.

It is also worth noting that EJF has assisted Cameroon in revising its outdated 1994 fishing legislation, contributing to measures aimed at reversing the EU red flag and the ban on fisheries products from Cameroon in 2023.

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