The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, earmarked the waters six years ago as having the highest rate of overfishing. More than half of the fish stocks in the region are being overexploited. If this is allowed to continue, food security for millions of African people is at stake.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is now documenting runaway fishing fleets in West African waters – some of the richest in the world. The “Hope in West Africa ship tour” started in Cape Verde on February 23rd and will in the coming months visit Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal. After just one week and a half, the crew onboard the Esperanza has already witnessed numerous examples of unsustainable, unregulated and potentially illegal behaviour of fishing vessels.
As one of the initiators of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative, Mauritania is a key player in the West African region. They are obligated to provide information on fishing fleets in their waters under the Fisheries Agreement signed with the European Union. However, along the entire coastline of Mauritania, Greenpeace has witnessed numerous fishing vessels not reporting their positions via satellite (AIS).
Additionally, industrial vessels are operating well within the 12 nautical mile zone. Fishing grounds in this zone are vital for small scale fishermen and fishing communities. One of the most disturbing events witnessed by the Greenpeace crew onboard the Esperanza was the discovery of hundreds of dead Meagre fish, more than one meter in length, thrown overboard by industrial fishing vessels.
Greenpeace East Asia Oceans Campaigner Bolei Liu, said: “These are valuable fish that can earn a good income and a single fish can feed a large family for a few days. It is a disgrace that these fish are being caught and after that simply thrown overboard. It was painful to watch local fishermen jumping out of their small boats to catch these discarded fish to prevent this valuable resource from being wasted.”
Wasteful or even illegal practices are unfortunately not uncommon in West African waters, where two third of the fish stocks are shared between two or more countries. In order to tackle the growing and shared problem of overfishing, coastal states must act urgently and jointly through a regional fisheries body with a clear management mandate going beyond a simple advisory role.
Governments must agree on binding rules, including an equitable and sustainable allocation of access to fish stocks that takes into account the interest of local communities and the environment. Also they must ensure that rules are complied with, and realise they do not only need to cooperate because they share waters, but are in fact also obligated to do so by international law and regional conventions. This is the only way to really make sure that fish are caught sustainably with no harm done to the marine environment.
Photos and footage available here.
Enquiries for contact onboard the Esperanza: [email protected], project leader, Greenpeace Holland, +31 107130874
International media enquiries: [email protected], Communications Coordinator, Greenpeace Nordic, +45 28109021
African media enquiries: [email protected], Communications Officer, Greenpeace Africa, Senegal office, +221 773336265
Chinese media enquiries: [email protected], Communications Officer, Greenpeace East Asia Beijing Office, +86 186-0127-7872
 The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concludes, that the majority of pelagic and demersal fish in West Africa’s waters are either fully exploited or overexploited. Already in 2009, FAO said, the region had the highest rate of overfishing with 54% of all analysed fish overexploited.
 Mauritania and European Union Sustainable Fisheries Protocol http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2015.315.01.0003.01.ENG&toc=OJ:L:2015:315:TOC
 The use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) enables a safe passage out at sea, and keeps an overview of operations taking place. However more than half of the fishing vessels encountered in Mauritanian waters were not using their AIS system at all, only used it intermittently or simply switched it off at night to hide their activities.
 CECAF 2012 performance review, https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-africa-stateless/2018/10/b933deb1-b933deb1-an154e.pdf, page 10, paragraph 1.2.4
 Convention on the determination of the Minimal Conditions for Access and Exploitation of Marine resources within the Maritime Areas Under the jurisdiction of the Member States of the Sub Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-africa-stateless/2018/10/csrp-CMA_version_originale_juin_2012_fr.pdf