Does the West know best?

Local fishing boats in a West African port. The industry is suffering due to a massive amount of illegal fishing and under-investment in the region Local fishing boats in a West African port. The industry is suffering due to a massive amount of illegal fishing and under-investment in the region

Further investment is needed, along with much tighter fisheries laws, if the West African nations are to win the battle against their depleted fish stocks. Adrian Tatum reports.

West Africa - home of Mauritania, one of the most talked about fisheries in the world. But, unfortunately, talked about for the wrong reasons in recent years. Mauritania, along with some of key areas in the region, had some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, but the future is now a lot less secure after years of overfishing.

A new report by the Overseas Development Institute and porCausa-the Spanish investigative journalism organisation, titled West Africa’s missing fish, says a ‘crack down’ on illegal fishing by foreign commercial fleets operating in western Africa and further investment in the sector could lead to other benefits such as 300,000 new jobs.

Weak regulation
The report highlights the urgent need to address the region’s weak regulation and lack of deterrence measures, including coastguard patrols, and that means the chance to put a stop to unregulated behaviour and protect the region’s ‘rich maritime’ resources is likely to be unsuccessful.

For the first time in a report of its kind, West Africa’s missing fish explores the activities of commercial freezing and processing vessels fishing off the coast of Eest Africa through detailed tracking data and satellite navigation systems. The findings highlight the difficulties of preventing illegally caught fish entering the supply chain which was, in part, due to the industry practice of the transfer of catches from vessel to vessel.

According to the report, among the 35 processing vessels (reefers) operating in the area during 2013, tracking data showed routes consistent with the transfer of catches from fishing vessels to reefers. This was more apparent in the waters of both Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire, countries which have banned this practice. It was reported that most of the reefers were flying a ‘flag of convenience’ - meaning vessels owners have registered their vessels in countries with less strict enforcement rules.

A Sierra Leonean fisherman interviewed for the report said that he had his nets broken by South Korean trawlers which regularly fish inside the five mile coastal zone reserved for artisanal fishers. However, Sierra Leone only had two coastguard boats to patrol its entire coastline in 2013.

Vessels from across the world, including China, South Korea and Holland, operated there in 2013, with the region’s catch exported globally, including to major European markets in the UK, Spain, and Holland.

Senegal lost $300 million, or two per cent of its GDP, to the practice in 2012, while Sierra Leone - one of the region’s poorest nations - missed out on $29 million, said the report.

Report author, Alfonso Daniels, said: “The scale of the losses are enormous. Instead of jobs and development, the livelihoods of artisanal fishers are being decimated by foreign fishing fleets, which operate virtually unchecked.”

IUU fishing
According to one previous estimate, more than half of the stocks in the stretch of coast from Senegal to Nigeria alone have been overfished, with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing believed to account for between one third and half of the total catch.

The report recommends that governments in the region follow the lead of Cote D'Ivoire and Senegal, and ban ship to ship transfers of catch. It wants them to immediately ratify and implement a new international agreement aimed at strengthening port controls. It also recommends that nations work with Interpol and says the African Union should develop an IUU blacklist for the whole continent.

Earlier this year, the EU and Mauritania renewed a four-year fishing agreement that will see more than 100 EU vessels into Mauritania’s waters in return for funding that will go towards supporting local fishing communities. The EU will pay the country €59.15m a year for the TAC and a further €4.1m to support the sector.

The agreement now allows EU vessels to catch shrimp, tuna, demersal fish and pelagic fish totalling up to about 280,000 tonnes each year. The bilateral agreement is unique because, unlike others that are predominantly hinged on fishing tuna, it covers a wide range of stocks. The EU vessels covered under this arrangement come from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Germany, Ireland, France and Latvia.

The EU Parliament says the agreement with Mauritania should serve as a model of transparency and enforcement. But the fishing deal has received growing criticism from researchers and environmentalists who have accused the EU of exporting its problem of overexploitation to African waters.

Many believe although Mauritania has received more than €1bn in return for EU fishing rights for the past 25 years, there is little to show how the money is benefiting local fishing communities or improving the country’s fishing sector. Trawlers are almost non-existent now in the ports and even the growth in traditional fishing techniques has been without government participation.

Greenpeace has said that the EU’s presence is unsustainable and a hindrance to Africa to developing its own robust fishing sector. In a report, written as long ago as 2012, the campaigning organisation urged for the impact on local communities to be recognised.

 “The impact on local communities is huge. With less and less fish, local fishermen are forced to make dangerous journeys further away, some simply give up and move away. Trawlers trash traditional fishing gears, which the locals can’t afford to replace. Whilst nominal deals may have been done with governments, it is local communities and Africa’s seas that pay the price,” said the organisation.

“When fishing represents the main source of protein, and a major source of livelihoods, it really matters how much we are stealing from Africa’s waters. And with increased danger from collisions with trawlers, some West African fishermen end up paying with their lives,” it added.

Local fishermen are forced to compete with the EU’s industrial trawlers for catches. The Greenpeace report says that a European trawler can capture up to 250 tonnes of fish a day, which would take 56 traditional African boats a year to net.

Elsewhere in the region, it has been reported that Ghana’s fishing sector may face further decline if the Government does not invest further to redevelop it. According to statistics from the Ghana Statistical Service, the fishing industry recorded the least growth of negative 1.1% compared to 0.8% in the fourth quarter of 2015. By this, the sub-sector declined by over 1% in the first quarter compared to the same period in the last quarter of 2015.

Speaking to Citi Business News in an interview recently, the General Secretary of the General Agriculture Workers Union (GAWU), Edward Kareweh, maintained that the sub-sector is an important area that has the economic potential to generate substantial foreign earnings through export if it gets the needed capital injection.

“Investment is not good in the whole of agriculture sector and the fisheries sub-sector is no exception. The sub-sector is very important and can bring a lot of foreign income if it gets the required support,” he said.

Mr Kareweh was of the view that it is time for a rigorous policy framework to address the issues plaguing the subsector since it also provides a livelihood for a number of Ghanaians.

“The negative growth we are seeing, even though it’s the first quarter of this year, still raises concerns. It indicates that the sub-sector lacks a lot that is needed. This is why we are calling for a new policy direction to make it viable,” he said.

He stated that the sub-sectors of agriculture are very pertinent to the total output and records, hence need all the attention to increase output.

“We have always said that we have to pay attention to the sub-sectors by addressing the challenges that confront the small units. That approach will help identify the areas that need immediate attention,” he advised. He explained that addressing the micro challenges will provide effective solutions that will outline how the sub-sectors of agriculture can be improved.

Export ban
Meanwhile, The European Commission (EC) has questioned whether to implement a ban on fish exports from Ghana, if the country’s authorities fail to enforce fisheries laws in the region.

A previous ban on fish exports was lifted by the EC last year because of very high levels of illegal fishing in the country’s waters. Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Sherrie Ayittey revealed that the country loses 10 million dollars to illegal fishing annually.

Unfortunately, it is a similar picture in Sierra Leone as well. According to the Sierra Leone Telegraph, every year the government of Sierra Leone loses over $100 million in revenue from the country’s vastly rich fishing sector, because of poor governance, weak surveillance and monitoring systems and poor procurement arrangements.

Foreign fishing companies are depriving the country of an estimated $100 million in fees and duties, by exploiting the country’s vast territorial waters, as well as the high level corruption taking place on the corridors of the fisheries ministry. Local Sierra Leonean owned fishing companies do not have the capacity and finance to compete with their foreign counterparts, nor do they have the support of the government to grow and strengthen their business.

Recently, the Sierra Leone Director of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Mohamed Bushura Cole, said that the production and management of wastes as a result of socio-economic activities (both land and marine based) pose a challenge and are impacting on the quality of the country's coastal environment. 

He said: “There are signs of over exploitation or full exploitation of Sierra Leone's marine resources including fisheries and mangroves as well as signs of global warming and sea level rise and if these trends are not checked will result to the collapse of such resources and offset of ecological balance."

Mr Cole said the Coastal Zone is endowed with huge potential and as such attracts large human settlement with potential for more, noting that in Sierra Leone, over 10% of its population depends directly or indirectly on the living and non-living marine resources, whilst another 60% depends on agriculture, particularly rice cultivation in mangrove swamps and inland valley swamps. This area, he said constitutes a complex and dynamic marine ecosystem that supports varying ecological processes and vast array of marine life and habitat. He added that inhabitants in this zone benefit from the exploration and exploitation and use of marine and coastal resources, including minerals, oil, and gas, sand gravels, fishing, salts, timbers, agro production, marine tourism, mariculture and transportation etc.

Despite these benefits, Mr Cole said that there are threats from various developmental activities associated with population growth and expansion, some of which are utility supplies, dredging, mineral extraction, land clearance, waste disposal, fisheries and aquaculture, and tourism and recreation. He furthered that these activities are compounded by landslides, flooding, global warming, and sea level rise, among others, due to climate change, and called on government and other stakeholders to take into full consideration and formulate measures to prevent or minimise the effects of disasters such as the recent flood in most parts of the country.

Last year Mauritania and Guinea have recently started to use the initial instalments of three multilateral development aid grants worth a total of US$29m, awarded to the two nations earlier this year as part of efforts to boost fisheries development in two of West Africa’s poorest states.

The aid funding has been awarded to strengthen governance and management of fisheries in both countries and to improve the handling of landed catch in major ports and other selected sites to reduce post-harvest wastage and increase fishermen’s earnings. It was recognised that both Mauritania and Guinea each have important potential for fisheries development as part of wider international efforts by agencies including the FAO and the World Bank to support sustainable fisheries development and improve food security throughout the whole of West Africa.


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