The European Union has renewed a four year fishing agreement with Mauritania that will allow over 100 EU vessels into Mauritania’s waters in return for funding that will support local fishing communities. But the deal has its critics. EURACTIV Germany reports.
The agreement, which was greenlit by the European Parliament, is an avenue for the member states to bolster a burgeoning domestic demand for fish that the bloc is unable to satisfy. Since 2009, EU imports of fish stock for local consumption have risen by 6% each year. In 2014 alone, the bloc imported €21 billion, quadruple that of meat imports.
The agreement, which dates back to 1987, is considered crucial because it is the most comprehensive the EU has had with any African country and belongs to the sustainable fisheries partnership agreements (SFPAs) that gives EU vessels access to third countries fishing waters.
The new deal will come under the umbrella of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, which has committed the bloc to more sustainable fishing, in stark contrast to the overfishing of the African coast that was undertaken in the past.
The agreement now allows EU vessels to fish shrimp, tuna, demersal fish and pelagic fish totalling up to 281,500 tonnes each year. On its end the EU will pay for the catches, and commit €59.125 million every year to the partnership with €4.125 million going into supporting activities of the fishing communities in the West African country including environmental sustainability, job creation and tackling illegal and unregulated fishing.
The bilateral agreement is also unique because unlike others that are predominantly hinged on fishing tuna, it covers a wide range of stocks. The EU vessels covered under this arrangement come from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Germany, Ireland, France, Latvia and Ireland.
According to the Parliament, the agreement with Mauritania should serve as a model of transparency and enforcement.
Mauritania has in place a Fisheries and Transparency Initiative (FiTI) which is anchored on transparency and participation therefore ending secretive fishing contracts that aids overfishing. It has sought to enlist the support of businesses and civil society in embracing responsible fisheries management. Such an initiative has been hailed by the industry as a major milestone in taming overfishing which costs West African countries up to €1.1 billion in depleted stocks every year.
But the fishing deal has received growing criticism from researchers and environmentalists who have accused the EU of exporting its problem of over exploitation of its own fish stocks to African waters.
While the bloc has tried to save face by, for example, introducing the Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) which seeks to abolish purely commercial deals and instead introduce new mechanisms that encompass fishing communities in decision making, little has changed according to its critics.
The argument is that although Mauritania has received over €1 billion in return for EU fishing rights for the last 25 years, there is little or nothing to show as to how the money is benefiting local fishing communities or improving the country’s fishing sector. Trawlers for example are almost obsolete and even the marked growth in traditional fishing techniques has been without government participation.
Greenpeace says the EU’s presence is unsustainable and a hindrance to Africa in developing its own robust fishing sector. “The impact on local communities is huge. With less and less fish local fishermen are forced to make dangerous journeys further away, some simply give up and move away. Trawlers trash traditional fishing gears, which the locals can’t afford to replace. Whilst nominal deals may have been done with governments, it is local communities and Africa’s seas that pay the price,” said the organisation in a new report.
The report further detailed how depleted fish stocks have seen local fishermen forced to move further out to sea in search of more stocks. “When fishing represents the main source of protein, and a major source of livelihoods, it really matters how much we are stealing from Africa’s waters. And with increased danger from collisions with trawlers, some West African fishermen end up paying with their lives,” it warned.
Local fishermen, with their medieval boats, are forced to compete with the EU’s industrial trawlers for catches. A European trawler can capture up to 250 tonnes of fish a day which would take 56 traditional African boats a year to net.
The report further added that the presence of the trawlers in the West African country has killed approximately 1,500 endangered turtles and over 60,000 sharks.