Nouakchott, Mauritania, 13 March 2017 - Greenpeace today presented the results of 10 days of research on fishing practices along the West African coast to the Mauritanian Minister of Fisheries & Maritime Economy, the Minister of Environment & Sustainable Development and the Minister of Equipment & Transport. After witnessing several irregularities involving local and foreign fishing vessels Greenpeace is calling for a powerful and effective regional fisheries management body in the region.
Pavel Klinckhamers, project leader onboard the Esperanza said: “The wild west situation in West African waters is alarming and reconfirms the need for urgent action. From what we have seen at sea, fishing capacity is still a big issue, and there is a huge lack of knowledge about how much fish is available. The only way to stop this ruthless overexploitation is for governments to take responsibility and start cooperating around managing their resources wisely.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, earmarked the waters six years ago as having the highest rate of overfishing. More than half of the fish stocks in the region are being overexploited. If this is allowed to continue, food security for millions of African people is at stake.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is now documenting runaway fishing fleets in West African waters - some of the richest in the world. The “Hope in West Africa ship tour” started in Cape Verde on February 23rd and will in the coming months visit Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal. After just one week and a half, the crew onboard the Esperanza has already witnessed numerous examples of unsustainable, unregulated and potentially illegal behaviour of fishing vessels.
As one of the initiators of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative, Mauritania is a key player in the West African region. They are obligated to provide information on fishing fleets in their waters under the Fisheries Agreement signed with the European Union. However, along the entire coastline of Mauritania, Greenpeace has witnessed numerous fishing vessels not reporting their positions via satellite (AIS).
Additionally, industrial vessels are operating well within the 12 nautical mile zone. Fishing grounds in this zone are vital for small scale fishermen and fishing communities. One of the most disturbing events witnessed by the Greenpeace crew onboard the Esperanza was the discovery of hundreds of dead Meagre fish, more than one meter in length, thrown overboard by industrial fishing vessels.
Greenpeace East Asia oceans campaigner Bolei Liu, said: “These are valuable fish that can earn a good income and a single fish can feed a large family for a few days. It is a disgrace that these fish are being caught and after that simply thrown overboard. It was painful to watch local fishermen jumping out of their small boats to catch these discarded fish to prevent this valuable resource from being wasted.”
Wasteful or even illegal practices are unfortunately not uncommon in West African waters, where two third of the fish stocks are shared between two or more countries. In order to tackle the growing and shared problem of overfishing, coastal states must act urgently and jointly through a regional fisheries body with a clear management mandate going beyond a simple advisory role.
Governments must agree on binding rules, including an equitable and sustainable allocation of access to fish stocks that takes into account the interest of local communities and the environment. Also they must ensure that rules are complied with, and realise they do not only need to cooperate because they share waters, but are in fact also obligated to do so by international law and regional conventions. This is the only way to really make sure that fish are caught sustainably with no harm done to the marine environment.