Over-exploitation of West African fisheries is leading to warnings of piracy and a ‘new Somalia.’
Every day, hundreds of unlicensed fishing vessels enter African waters and trawl for shrimp, sardines, tuna, and mackerel. According to a study commissioned by the UK’s aid agency, such trawlers are costing Africa at least $1 billion every year.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, all west African fishing grounds are fully or over-exploited to the detriment of over 1.5 million local fishermen who cannot compete with them or feed their growing populations.
Since 1990, thousands of small-scale fishermen in Senegal, Morocco, Mauritania and elsewhere have had to give up their small boats, adding to hunger and poverty in many countries that previously depended on fish for protein. Nearly all the fish caught in African waters is re-exported or sold in Europe.
A Greenpeace International report said:
“Millions of Africans depend for their diets on fish caught by local fishermen, but as a consequence of overfishing by the European fleet, stocks are further decreasing. Local fishermen are now forced to fish further out at sea.”
It takes 56 traditional Mauritanian boats one year to catch the volume of fish that an EU vessel can capture and process in a single day.
The EU trawlers are not the only issue; ships flagged to Russia, China, Korea or Belize are also fishing these waters.
Community leaders in Senegal have warned that overfishing by foreign fleets could lead to piracy and violence on the scale of Somalia, as well as a flood of economic migrants leaving west Africa to find work in Europe. Pressure has led to some licenses being revoked but they say it is not enough.
“Senegal’s only resource is the sea. One in five people work in the industry but if you put those people out of work then you can imagine what will happen. Europe is not far away and Senegal could become like Somalia,” Abdou Karim Sall, president of the Fishermen’s Association of Joal and the Committee of Marine Reserves in West Africa told The Guardian.
“People are getting desperate. For sure, in 10 years’ time, we will carry guns. The society here destabilises as the fishing resource is overexploited. As the situation becomes more difficult, so it will become more and more like Somalia,” Sall said.
In the first two months of this year, the International Maritime Organisation has recorded 10 piracy incidents off the coasts of Benin, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria.
In theory, Africa’s fishing waters should be protected under international law. In 1982, the International Law of the Sea set a 200-mile zone off the shores of coastal states within which fishing and other natural resource exploitation cannot take place without a license.
But African countries’ efforts to stop illegal fishing within those limits are hampered by a lack both of expertise and of the vast resources needed for policing such wide maritime areas. Only a few African countries, such as Namibia and South Africa, have the capacity to patrol their waters sufficiently to keep away illegal vessels.
Watch Greenpeace report on Pirate Fishing in West African waters:
Picture from Mbour, Senegal, by slosada