“The Current Fishing System is Truly Irrational"

African fishermen call for fairer Africa/EU fishing agreements

Feature story - May 13, 2011
As fisheries ministers from around the globe meet in Brussels to discuss the future of fishing agreements between EU and foreign countries, Greenpeace Africa calls for a fairer and sustainable fishing partnership that protects the livelihoods of West African fishing communities.

Dutch Factory Trawler 'Afrika'

Catch sensors and net of the Dutch factory trawler Afrika. The vessel is owned by Dutch company Jaczon BV and represented by the Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association, here making its catch off the West African coast. © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace

Almost a quarter of all fish taken by the European fishing fleet is caught outside EU waters especially in the once rich West African waters. This number is set to increase as European fish stocks decline because of overfishing.

Since April, African fishermen from Senegal, Mauritania and Cape Verde – as part of the African “Voices” Project - have been on a Greenpeace trip to Europe to decry the effects of EU fishing activities on their livelihood. Over the past month, the selected fishermen have had the opportunity to express their frustration and highlight solutions to EU fishing authorities in Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, Austria and Spain.

Three weeks ago, the delegation of African fishermen met EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki to explain the challenges they and their families are facing. During this meeting, the fishermen spoke out against the abuses of overfishing in the hope that their voice will play a part in light of the current reform on EU common fisheries policy.

Greenpeace Africa ocean campaigner Oumy Sene said “the EU must become a responsible player, promote good fishing practices, effective governance so as to maintain and build sustainable livelihoods for all, from the sea”.

Seagulls Eating from Fishing Net

While the total amount of fish caught off West Africa is unknown, at least 235,000 tonnes are caught in the waters of Morocco (including the occupied territory of Western Sahara) and Mauritania. © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace

European taxpayers contribute €158 million every year (half a million euros a year for every ship) to secure access to foreign fishing grounds for some of the world’s most destructive fishing trawlers.

Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director Saskia Richartz said: “The reform of European fisheries rules will have a major impact on the health of our oceans, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean and from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. It will also have an effect on the future of fishing communities across the world. Fisheries ministers must recognise that overfishing cannot continue and that sustainability needs to be at the centre of fishing agreements before it is too late.”

Harouna Ismael Lebaye, a coastal fishermen in Mauritania, said: “The current fishing system is truly irrational. I would like to ask Europeans to help us by no longer sending bottom trawlers and in particular boats that harm our ecosystem. I have been a fisherman for 21 years, and I’m scared that I’m going to have to stop.”

According to EU data, the EU catches about 1.2 million tonnes of fish per year in international waters, and the waters of foreign countries. Of this, on average just over 400,000 tons a year are fished in the waters of other countries, in particular off the coast of West Africa.

“Sustainable and fairer partnership agreements with Africa must prioritise the recovery and maintenance of marine ecosystems and fish stocks, be science-based to allow fishing on surplus stocks, prevent overfishing, and promote effective control that allows for stocks to regenerate” , concluded Oumy Sene.