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[Naijanet] BBC News AFRICA The battle for West Africa's fish

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30. juli 2001, 20:23:1030.07.2001
BBC News | AFRICA | The battle for West Africa's fish
BBC News Online: World: Africa

Monday, 30 July, 2001, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
The battle for West Africa's fish

As the European Commission negotiates to strike a major new fisheries
agreement with the West African state of Mauritania, Tim Judah examines the
strain this places on the region's own fishing stocks.
An agreement to let industrial fishing boats from European Union (EU)
countries fish in Mauritanian waters sounds routine enough, but with demand
for fish increasing across the world, fishing rights have become a valuable

Over the last few weeks the EC has renewed fishing agreements with Guinea
Bissau and Cape Verde.
However, it has failed to strike a new deal with Senegal and has had to make
do with a temporary agreement that allows EU fishing vessels to remain in
Senegalese waters until the end of the year.
These fishing deals give the African states valuable financial compensation
in exchange for fishing rights for European vessels, which, in this region,
come mostly from Spain and Portugal, but also from Italy, Holland, France,
Greece and other EU countries.
The problem is that stocks in these rich fishing grounds are plummeting. But
the Europeans need access more than ever now because most of Europe's own
waters are already overfished.
Agonising choice
In West Africa, governments need to balance their need for foreign exchange
earnings with the need to safeguard stocks, not only for the future but also
to help feed their own people today.

The (Senegal) Government has taken to tossing old cars and even
decommissioned tanks into the sea in a desperate bid to create artificial
reefs to attract fish back

Morocco, which has far more political clout than its weaker southern
neighbours, has failed to reach a new accord with the EC. It also illegally
controls the rich waters of Western Sahara - territory it occupied in 1975.
Its last four-year deal with the EU was worth £500m but since it lapsed at
the end of November 1999, EU fishing boats have been excluded from its
European fishermen who used to fish there are desperate to remain in the
waters of the other West African states, and indeed hope the EC's
negotiators can increase their access there.
But, there will not be room enough for all of them.
International competitors
Two weeks ago the EC proposed a £197m aid package for 4,300 Spanish and
Portuguese fishermen who have lost their livelihood due to the failure of
the EC to reach a new accord with Morocco.

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, demand for fish has
risen at twice the rate of human population growth since 1961

Ships from the EU are not the only foreign industrial trawlers operating in
this region. Russians, Chinese, Taiwanese and Koreans are also here.
They are not only in competition among themselves but also with thousands of
motorised African pirogues, modern-day descendants of the old fishing
Across the world, demand for fish and fish products has increased
dramatically over the last few decades
Rising demand
According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), demand for
fish has risen at twice the rate of human population growth since 1961.

World fishery production is now more than six times that of 1950, and with
Britain, and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe, rocked by BSE and
foot-and-mouth disease, demand for fish is rising.
West Africa is no exception to these global trends. Over the past 25 years,
millions have flocked to the coastal cities, pulled by the lure of
modernisation and pushed by punishing droughts and rural poverty.
Modern industrial trawlers stay at sea for weeks and even months, and modern
pirogues, equipped with iceboxes and with enough room for up to 15 crewmen,
can also stay at sea for up to 15 days.
Old cars, new fish
Fish stocks along the Senegalese coast, for example, are in such crisis that
the government has taken to tossing old cars and even decommissioned tanks
into the sea in a desperate bid to create artificial reefs to attract fish
According to Oceanium, a Senegalese marine environment non-governmental
organisation, it now takes one pirogue one month to catch the same amount of
fish that it used to catch in four days.
So Senegal's waters are already going the same way as the depleted fishing
grounds of the North Sea and the once teeming waters off the coast of the
north-east United States and Newfoundland.
According to a recent FAO study, 10% of the world's marine fish populations
were depleted or recovering from depletion, up to 18% were overexploited and
up to 50% were fully exploited.
Dwindling supplies
There is a lack of detailed scientific data for West African stocks but the
evidence from fishermen across the region is compelling.

Fishing in third countries is not unethical, the point is to make sure it is
done in a proper way
Gregor Kreuzhuber, EC fisheries spokesman

They say that there is less fish and the fish they catch are getting
In Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, one Portuguese fish exporter
reports that even four years ago there were a lot more fish.
Then he was buying up to eight tonnes a day from local fishermen. Today two
tonnes is considered an exceptionally good day.
Policing the fish
Faced with a sharp decline in stocks the West African countries and the EC
all talk about sustainable fishing policies.
Gregor Kreuzhuber, the EC's fisheries spokesman defends the EC's fishing
policies saying: "Fishing in third countries is not unethical, the point is
to make sure it is done in a proper way."
This is easier said than done as it is extremely difficult to police
agreements reached between foreign and African countries on how much and
what type of fish the foreigners can take.
The EU's fishing agreements with West Africa are currently coming under
increasing scrutiny from environmental pressure groups such as the World
Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which wields considerable financial and media
Poor management
Dr Claude Martin, the director general of WWF International, which is based
in Switzerland, recently launched a major attacked on the EC saying that it
knew "first-hand the devastating effect ill-managed fisheries have had in
its own waters".
He added: "It is inconceivable to think the commission would use taxpayers'
money to export this unsustainable fishing practice to threatened coastal
states in West Africa."
Environmentalists say that the core of the problem is that, for political
reasons, the EU has subsidised its fishing fleets, meaning that it now has a
vast overcapacity.
Since the EU's own stocks are so severely depleted there is political
pressure on the commission to secure as much access to West African and
other waters as possible.
The alternative is to embark upon a policy which would eventually mean
sacking thousands of fishermen, some from politically sensitive areas such
as Spain's Basque country.
Sustainable fishing
This is a problem no government, which sooner or later has to face
re-election, wishes to be saddled with.
With only 25-27% of marine fish populations now reported to be under
exploited or only moderately exploited it is expected that increased demand
will, in future, have to be met by an increase in fish farming.
In the meantime the fish-rich West African countries face agonising choices,
not dissimilar from those facing central African countries rich in timber.
They need the money now, but once the fish and trees are gone, they are

Related to this story:
West African fishing under threat (27 Sep 00 | Africa) EU abandons Morocco
fish talks (25 Apr 01 | Africa) EU slashes fish catches (15 Dec 00 | Europe)

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Organisation | European Commission | Marine Stewardship Council |
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