This is part two of the Afican Voices tour through Europe, to catch-up on part one, click here.
What is the African Voices Tour?
As European waters have become increasingly overfished, massive European fishing vessels have moved into West African waters to continue their fishing for European markets. For local fishermen in Senegal, Cape Verde and Mauritania, these fleets are having a severe impact on the fisheries, making it very difficult for them to feed their families.
Greenpeace Africa wants to change that.
Nine representatives from fishing communities in West Africa will travel to Europe, together with Raoul Monsembula, Oumy Sene, and Prudence Wanko, from Greenpeace Africa. They've arranged meetings with European politicians and they hope to change the EU policy on fishing in African seas.
Their timing is good. This year leaders in Brussels are working on a new European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and there is a real chance that through this project we can get more protection for the African oceans. For more information about the project, click here.
Austria, 30 April - 5 May
Even if Austria doesn't have a coastline -- and it certainly doesn't send fishing trawlers to West African waters -- Austrians, like everyone else, are still seafood eaters and pay taxes, like all other EU citizens.
"These taxes, among others, subsidise the big trawlers who come and empty our waters... I count on European populations to put pressure on their governments to stop subsidising the trawlers which are destroying our lives," Ismaël said repeatedly at our numerous meetings with the Minister, NGO's, media and parliamentarians.
Immediately following our meeting with the Austrian Green Party, Parliamentarian Petra Bayr got down to issuing a press release with a few concrete proposals:
"We are going to ask our Fisheries Minister, at the next plenary session, what her position is on the fisheries partnership agreements between the EU and third world countries. Furthermore, in collaboration with the five parties represented at the National Assembly, we'll submit a resolution to the Fisheries Minister on Austria's position in the coming agreements. This proposal will be integrated with the views of Greenpeace."
This provided a glimmer of hope for our African Voices fishermen. They had hoped when coming to Austria, that as a country without big interests in West African waters, it would be more open to representing their interests in the up-coming negotiations.
April 22, 2011: “France Afrique”
"Welcome to Africa" one would have said upon our arrival at “chateau d’eau” metro station in Paris on Friday 22 of April. The crowd on the street in front of us was mainly “the hope, the symbol of success” of an entire continent.
Just as in Brussles, we brought beautiful African weather along with us to the French capital, and in fact it was Ismaël who remarked how at home he felt in Paris.
We took avantage of the long Easter Weekend to really make the most of the city by visiting, among others, the remarkable Eiffel Tower.
Then was back to work on Monday, and we got down to preparing for the two key meetings we had organised for our time in France. The first was with Mr Mauguin of the French Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the second with the advisor to the French Environment Minister.
Talks between the African fishermen and the French politicians focussed in general on EU fishing in West Africa, but particular attention was paid to the role France would play in new fishing agreements, due in 2012. Contrary to Belgium, not only does France have fishing agreements with West African countries, but it's also a key player in a larger fishing block active in African waters, along with countries like Spain.
Once again the fishermen spoke out against the injustice they experience daily in the face of giant European ships, who not only plunder the fisheries, but also sometimes damage their materials and even the fishermen themselves. It was the opportunity for Ameth and Ishmael to remind the politicians: "If you continue ravaging our resources and endangering our food security, we will be, just like our fish, your neighbours". Nouadhibou in Mauritania has become the door to clandestine immigration for many young Africans who seek betterment in Europe.
At the end of our stay ‘at home', we travelled aboard a “bush taxi” to the West of France -- a journey of 16 hours, there and back. But the distance was definitly worth the effort as we had the chance to meet up with French artisinal fishermen in Pompail and Audierne. They spoke to us about their expereinces, and how they are now playing a role in the sustainable fishing of their marine resources.
Ahmet and Ismaël, very satisfied with the meeting, hoped it would be the start of a long-term relationship between French and African Artisinal fishermen.
France, 19 April 2011
Although yesterday's final meeting left us a little deflated, our fishermen bounced-back today, taking the opportunity to to reiterate how worried they are about the irresponsable fishing methods of EU fleets in West African seas.
The Belgian Fisheries Minister we met with wasn't simply impressed by the elaborate African clothing we decided to wear for the occasion, but more so by first-hand accounts of how huge group efforts are now required by african fishermen to meet the most basic of their daily needs.
"Whereas in the past a day's fishing was enough to feed one's family and pay for other day-to-day needs, today that is no longer the case. Despite fishing in teams and spending many days out at sea, our standard of living is going from bad to worse, and we are really concerned about our children's future," said Ismaël, one of the fishermen with us from Mauritania.
The Belgian Minister was very attentive to the stories he heard, and promised to pass on our message to his European counterparts.
Following the meeting, the two "stars of the day" took part in a question and answer session with about 15 national and international media and press associations. Always keen for interesting and colourful stories, the media was disappointed by the ones we had to tell.
African fishermen, Harouna Ismael Lebaye from Mauritania (left) and Ameth Wade from Senegal (right), meet with Maria Damanaki, the EU's Fisheries Commissioner.
And to end off the day on a good note, Ms Damanaki, the EU's Fisheries Commissioner, gave us 20 minutes of her valuable time to hear from the Mauritanian and Senegalese fishermen. (I took the opporunity to slip here a bright smile and a few photos of what exactly takes place in the seas off the West African coastline.
I hope that these images, combined with our fishermen's stories, will speak for themselves. Hopefully when it comes to relooking fishing agreements with West African Countries, the minister will be inspired by what she heard today, allowing her to make decisions that will also benefit the artisinal fishermen of West Africa.
18 April 2011
After a number of hassles at European embassies in Senegal and Mauritania, we finally arrived in Brussels around noon.
With our baggage in hand we headed to our first meeting. The fishermen with us on this leg of the tour, from Senegal and Mauritania, were visibly nervous as we made our way to our first meeting, this one with Thijs Wissink from the EU department of developement. But in the end they delivered their message, and it was very well received with much attention and note-taking.
They spoke of how overfishing in European waters has depleted fish to the point where new fishing grounds needed to be found. So in order to maintain the supply of fish to European markets, these fishing vessels are simply moving into African waters, continuing their devastinging fishing methods there, and making it increasingly difficult for African fishermen to make a living.
Unfortunately the second meeting for the day, this one with the EU delegation who actually deals with fishing activities, was not as positive. So-called "surveillance experts" who attended the meeting were soon on the defensive, determined to push the merits of their methods of monitoring the fishing situation in foreign waters.
It was as if they were saying the difficulties of African fishermen are not their problem; they can't be blamed if money paid for fishing licences in African waters doesn't trickle down to the people. I immediately felt like asking "but why do you continue dealing with those governments if you know the money is being misappropriated?"
Luckily the fishermen weren't thrown off by these arguements, and quickly turned the debate to the main goal of meeting: denouncing the devastating effects EU fishing fleets are having on the fish stocks off the West African coast.