The Western Indian Ocean has rich marine resources that attract around 500 commercial fishing vessels, mainly to catch tuna that will be consumed in Europe, Asia or America. Most of the vessels fishing in the region are foreign flagged.

While all the coastal States of the region have a history of fishing, none has developed home grown industrial fishing fleets. However, recent interest in blue growth has encouraged authorities to embark on a route of fleet development through the flagging of foreign-owned or controlled fishing vessels. Today, around 20 per cent of the vessels fishing for tuna and other large pelagic species in the Western Indian Ocean – about 90 fishing vessels – are flagged by regional coastal States.

Flag States play a critical role in controlling and monitoring the activity of their flagged fishing vessels and, given the high levels of non-compliance found during FISH-i investigations into illegal fishing, there is a significant opportunity for flag States of the Western Indian Ocean to help stop illegal fishing.

While the benefits of flagging fishing vessels are easy to understand the costs are often overlooked, or are felt by those who do not have control over the vessel registration process.

Based on wider research of the FISH-i Africa members this document summarises the main costs and benefits of being a flag State, and outlines the major responsibilities for those flagging vessels operational in the FISH-i Africa region.

Sandy Davies, Stop Illegal Fishing commented, “The challenge for fisheries officers is in building understanding of the costs of flagging fishing vessels amongst other agencies who may not fully appreciate the implications of accepting a vessel onto the register. We hope that by identifying the potential and direct costs involved in flagging that flag States will take note and conduct careful checks on the vessels and their owners who seek a registration.”