The ocean off West African coasts is home to one of the world's richest fishing grounds. From Morocco up north down to Guinea, sardines, grouper, snapper, shrimp and mackerel are part of a rich marine fauna exploited by fishing vessels on an industrial scale.
"These underwater grounds are now at risk of collapse," warns the Senegalese Fisheries Minister, Haidar El-Ali.
But in an incredibly valuable industry, fines are no deterrent to illegal fishing; foreign vessels always come back and can easily cover or change their identification markings. "Fines represent only a fraction in their operational costs," says Steve Trent, executive director at the UK-based campaign group Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
El-Ali says "Vessels we caught pay a fine and go, but they do it again,"
EJF researchers estimate that West African waters have the highest levels of illegal catch in the world, at about 37% of the region's total. Up to 26 million tonnes of fish, worth more than $23bn, are estimated to be lost annually to what is officially called "Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated" (IUU) - or pirate fishing.
In Sierra Leone alone, one of the world's poorest countries still recovering from civil war, the EJF estimates losses at $29m each year. Senegal's losses are about $312m a year because of illegal fishing by foreign trawlers, quoting USAid figures.
Maria Damanaki, the EU commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, has recently blacklisted Guinea, Cambodia and Belize. These three countries, some of the most valuable sources of seafood, are now banned from exporting fish to the EU for failing to act on pirate fishing. South Korea has been officially warned it may soon end up on that list. Vessels registered there have been illegally operating off the coasts of West Africa repeatedly.