Report from Greenpeace ship tour of West African fisheries

West Africa’s coastal waters lie within one of four of the world’s major ocean upwellings, all of which can be found on the eastern boundaries of the Pacifc and Atlantic oceans. This oceanographic phenomenon brings nutrient rich waters to the surface, ensuring an extraordinary abundance and productivity of life underneath the surface.

With a total surface area of 1.5 million km2 divided between Mauritania (234,000 km2), Gambia (10,500 km2), Senegal (180,895 km2), Cabo Verde (734,265 km2), Guinea Bissau (105,000 km2), Guinea (116,584 km2) and Sierra Leone (166,058 km2), the waters of the Member States of the Subregional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) are an integral part of the FAO Area 34. Despite the small proportion of the global ocean surface covered by these areas, they supply around one-fifth of global marine catches. Fishing in this region makes a significant contribution to the improvement of macroeconomic and social indicators through job creation and food security by playing a key role in the diet of West African populations, and by generating income for local economies.

However, pressure from a growing number of African and foreign fishing fleets is having a detrimental effect on these vibrant waters. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has raised concerns regarding the repercussions of stock depletion due to overfishing on food security and the economy of West Africa, where around seven million people are part of the value chain and rely on fish for income and employment, while many millions more depend on fish as a source of animal protein. It is estimated that around 300,000 jobs have been lost in the artisanal sectors due to a lack of policies that protect both fisheries and livelihoods.

The degradation of West Africa’s marine and coastal environment has become more acute in recent years, due to a combination of rapid population growth, urbanization, natural disasters, and overfishing. In March 2017, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza embarked upon the “Hope in West Africa” ship tour, in order to shed light on an environmentally and economically unsustainable situation in some of the world’s most fertile waters. Working in close cooperation with the permanent secretary of the SRFC and the authorities of West African coastal states, the Esperanza conducted joint surveillance operations in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal.

This report details the findings and analysis from the two months of surveillance at sea and on-land engagement activities with officials, communities and youth organisations. It also provides a set of recommendations to help West African governments live up to their responsibilities, and to jointly manage both foreign and local fishing activities in order to safeguard their waters, and ensure a fair and sustainable distribution of marine resources.

Download the report here.