Trawlers from China are threat­en­ing West Africa’s fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties “Their boats are so big and they can’t see us

$1.3bn is lost ev­ery year on ac­count of il­le­gal, un­reg­u­lated fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties around West Africa.

Daily Trust - - FEATURES - By Erin Con­way-Smith

On a beach jammed with pirogues, the brightly painted wooden boats of West Africa, a crew of fish­er­men sing as they haul their ves­sel from the sea: “Thanks to God we have re­turned alive.”

While Mau­ri­ta­nia is al­most en­tirely a desert coun­try, along its coast are some of the rich­est fish­ing grounds in the world. But ca­noe-like pirogues are lit­tle match for the enor­mous Euro­pean and Asian trawlers that also ply these wa­ters, pulling enor­mous hauls of fish and other seafood from the deep ocean.

Lo­cal fish­er­men com­plain that their catch is dwin­dling, and they must travel far out into the At­lantic, risk­ing col­li­sions with trawlers and other dan­gers at sea, in or­der to earn a liv­ing.

“Their boats are so big and they can’t see us,” said Samba Di­allo, a fish­er­man.

Di­allo, 42, who has been fish­ing since he was a teenager, said his catch has been de­clin­ing for years. He and four crew­mates travel more than 20 miles from shore in their small boat, stay­ing on the wa­ter for days and sleep­ing in shifts.

“It is a lot more dif­fi­cult to find fish,” he said. “We have to go fur­ther and fur­ther.”

Fish­ing is a crit­i­cal part of the econ­omy of Mau­ri­ta­nia, an over­whelm­ingly poor coun­try, as it is in neigh­bor­ing Sene­gal and Guinea. In­ter­na­tional trawlers from coun­tries in­clud­ing China, South Korea and Rus­sia are drawn to the area be­cause of de­clin­ing fish stocks back home.

But con­ser­va­tion­ists warn that ra­pa­cious fish­ing prac­tices there are threat­en­ing fish­eries and food sup­ply to a stag­ger­ing de­gree. West Africa loses at least $1.3 bil­lion a year from il­le­gal, un­re­ported and un­reg­u­lated fish­ing, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 re­port from the Africa Progress Panel.

“The liveli­hoods of ar­ti­sanal fish­ing peo­ple are be­ing de­stroyed, Africa is los­ing a vi­tal source of pro­tein and nu­tri­tion, and op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­ter higher value added ar­eas of world trade are be­ing lost,” the re­port said.

Green­peace warned in May that “rogue” fish­ing ves­sels from China were pil­lag­ing the fish­eries of West Africa. A two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the group found that at least 74 boats owned by Chi­nese com­pa­nies were fish­ing in pro­hib­ited West African wa­ters and fal­si­fy­ing their gross ton­nage.

“They were tak­ing ad­van­tage of weak en­force­ment and su­per­vi­sion from lo­cal and Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties to the detri­ment of lo­cal fish­er­men and the en­vi­ron­ment,” said Rashid Kang, head of Green­peace East Asia’s China Ocean Cam­paign.

On a good day, the hun­dreds of pirogues op­er­at­ing out of the ports of Nouakchott, Mau­ri­ta­nia’s cap­i­tal, as well as Nouad­hi­bou, the main com­mer­cial cen­ter, take a tiny frac­tion of the fish caught by the big in­ter­na­tional trawlers. Ac­cord­ing to a Green­peace es­ti­mate, it would take 56 tra­di­tional pirogues a year to catch the vol­ume of fish net­ted and pro­cessed by one of the su­per-trawlers in a sin­gle day.

Mau­ri­ta­nia’s Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Ould Ab­del Aziz an­nounced a new ini­tia­tive in Jan­uary, dur­ing his term as African Union chair­man, that is aimed at bring­ing greater trans­parency to the global fish­ing in­dus­try.

“African gov­ern­ments have a po­ten­tially piv­otal role to play in tack­ling the global is­sue of il­le­gal fish­ing, but the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity must also take re­spon­si­bil­ity for com­bat­ing the for­eign boats that steal from African wa­ters,” Aziz said at the time.

While the Fish­eries Trans­parency Ini­tia­tive — which is be­ing de­vel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Peter Ei­gen, a founder of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional — has re­ceived praise, some cam­paign­ers question whether it will re­ceive the broad po­lit­i­cal sup­port nec­es­sary to be ef­fec­tive.

Di­allo, the fish­er­man, said that he some­times sees in­spec­tion boats out on the wa­ter. But more of­ten he wit­nesses trawlers fish­ing where they aren’t sup­posed to: “The govern­ment should check more reg­u­larly,” he said.

“The boats com­ing to fish aren’t just tak­ing the fish they need. They take other fish too,” Di­allo added. “They are ex­tin­guish­ing the re­sources by this way of fish­ing.”

Culled from glob­al­

Photo: Erin Con­way-Smith/Global Post

Samba Di­allo, 42, a fish­er­man in Nouakchott, Mau­ri­ta­nia trav­els more than 20 miles into the At­lantic on his wooden boat in or­der to catch fish.

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