By Mark Godfrey
The absence of political coordination in managing regional fishery stocks and approaches to illegal and excessive fishing by non-African trawlers is a major weakness exploited by industrial trawlers massing in major fishing grounds like the Gulf of Guinea, according to Greenpeace Africa Senior Oceans Campaign Manager Ibrahima Cisse.
Cisse, who has a Ph.D. in food science, focused on seafood safety, worked previously for the African Union as an expert coordinating fishery expertise in accordance with the region’s standards with those of the European Union and United States.
Based in Senegal, Cisse said the region needs ECOWAS, the economic bloc of West African states, to create a fisheries management system for fish stocks both in and outside of territorial waters, which have been the focus of major attention from Chinese fleets in particular.
“We want to see ECOWAS setting up a management body with harmonized legislation and management methodology,” he told SeafoodSource. “This is the only way to save our biodiversity.”
In territorial waters meanwhile the presence of the Chinese industrial fleet has been facilitated by lax enforcement, poor government disclosure, and an intersection of government and licensing money from trawlers. Cisse said Senegal’s government won’t even disclose the number of Chinese-owned vessels in Senegalese waters, or details of the licensing fees and structures they’re governed by.
“That is our number-one question for the ministry, but they won’t publish the figures,” Cisse said.
The Senegalese government sought to reduce the number of artisanal vessels at the same time as they were increasing the licenses awarded to industrial trawlers, said Cisse. He calculates that 200 vessels are licensed to operate in the country’s waters. But 52 new licenses were not awarded as planned earlier this year due to protests by local fishermen organizations and NGOs including his own, which argued the fish country’s stocks are already overexploited.
Cisse said there needs to be better, more transparent regulation of the trawler licensing system, and also called for the European Union, as a major buyer of African seafood and a source of influence on African states, to help local efforts pushing for change.
“We have been pushing the E.U. to push [African states], but the E.U. often prefers to sign bilateral agreements with individual states,” he said.
Further eroding political unity on fisheries, the biggest economic power in the region, Nigeria, has different priorities than smaller nations like Gambia, Ghana, and Senegal.
“Nigeria is a major importer of fish,” Cisse said. “Its situation is different.”
The absence of regional coordination also weakens the voice of African fisheries at important negotiations, like those ongoing at the World Trade Organization on ending harmful fishing subsidies.
“I don’t believe there is any strong African voice there,” Cisse said.