European Centre for Development Policy Management 19.2.2015 | Kukka Ranta
Senegal was the first sub-Saharan African nation to sign a fisheries agreement with European Community back in 1979. The agreement was not renewed in 2006 after the local fish stocks collapsed – a result of massive overfishing by European and other foreign vessels in the region.
After an eight-year pause, the EU and Senegal have recently signed a new five-year Fisheries Partnership Agreement starting in 2015. According to the agreement, up to 38 EU boats catching mainly tuna enter Senegalese waters in return for a EUR 8,69 million EU payment.
Local fishermen were not included in the negotiations and they have strongly opposed the agreement along with Greenpeace. By looking back to the recent history can one find a better understanding why?
The Reality for Senegalese Fishermen
According to Senegalese fishermen I interviewed during the winter of 2011-2012, in the 1990s there was enough fish for everyone. You could get a decent catch within a few hours just five to ten kilometers offshore.
By 2000, the fishermen began noticing the alarming disappearance of local fish population. Now fishermen in Senegal must travel at least forty kilometers out to sea, which means more fuel costs but usually less incomes with dramatically declined catches.
By 2005 the incomes of local fishermen crashed and centuries-old fishing beaches began to fill with deserted boats. Every day local fishermen watched European and Asian trawlers ploughing the coastline. Handmade wooden boats can’t compete with these subsidised industrial vessels.
Added to this, local fishermen have often been forced to turn back their boats because of vast rafts of bycatch by foreign vessels. Tons of unwanted or juvenile fish, dolphins, sharks and turtles, are often dumped back in the sea already dead. Bycatch in West Africa is estimated to be at its worst 75 percent from the total catch.
Fishing now employs some 600,000 or nearly one million Senegalese when you take into account all the entire production chain. In comparison, the European fisheries sector generates about 139,000 full-time jobs, mainly in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and France.
Many Senegalese fish processing factories have recently had to close down because of insufficient catch. Clients from the EU and Asian markets are disappearing, and when local factories close down, everyone in the local fisheries sector loses.
The annual consumption of fish continues to increase in most continents, especially in the largest fish markets like the EU and China. But in sub-Saharan Africa consumption is declining. This may have a knock on effect on nutrition security in a region with a fast growing population, as it is represents a vital source of animal protein.
Senegalese fisher families now have to survive on one or two meals a day, depending on what the sea provides. If there is no fish, many are forced to eat only sugared rice. Fewer families can afford to educate their children or cover medical expenses. For many, poverty has become a self-perpetuating cycle.
Developments in EU Policy
While the EU was renewing its Common Fisheries Policy in 2002, the World Wildlife Fund reported a 50% decline of deep-sea fish stocks in West Africa. But, from the European side there was not enough political will to change the course to reflect on the impact of their policies in West Africa.
Now many overfished species like shrimps, cephalopods and small pelagic species like sardine, sardinella and horse mackerel are being left out from the EU-Senegal Fisheries Partnership agreement, as an improvement in sustainability.
But the problem is the use of the Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) in EU tuna seiners that cause high amount of bycatch. Also there are two bottom trawlers targeting demersal hake, regardless the CRODT – Oceanographic Research Center recommend to limit fishing that overfished stock in the inter-ministerial council.
According to the European Union’s new common fisheries policy (CPF) agreed in 2013, one core principle is a ban on discarding fish at sea, which will be set in EU waters starting gradually from 2015. But the discard ban is only applicable in EU waters, not in the territorial waters of Africa.
Where Coherence in Fisheries Policies Matters for Development, and Life
When the fish stocks collapsed in 2005, around 5,000 West Africans fled poverty in wooden boats to the Canary Islands, with a hope of better future in Europe. That number rose to over 31,000 in a year, some 6,000 people drowned in the Atlantic Ocean.
Most of these migrants were from Senegal and Mauritania, the EU ’s two biggest fisheries agreement partners. When there is a total collapse of fish stocks, it causes an eco catastrophe and destroys food security and livelihoods for millions of the world’s poorest people. Do we ever learn that bad politics and the endless contest for markets is no good for our collective interest and the common good?
Kukka Ranta is a PhD Candidate and Researcher at the University of Helsinki, Investigative Journalist, Nonfiction Author and Photojournalist from Finland.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM
Photo Courtesy of Kukka Ranta
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