In the run up to the Senegalese presidential elections, Youssou N’dour isn’t the only controversial show on the road. Last week, a caravan tour organised by the small-scale fishing sector and our colleagues in Greenpeace Africa, called on presidential candidates to take urgent action against foreign super trawlers.
Fleets of giant fishing foreign trawlers that operate off the West African coastline are sucking up millions of tonnes of precious local resources. Some of these trawlers - many from Europe - are literally floating fish factories, capable of catching, processing and freezing 300 tonnes a day. This is having a devastating effect on millions of local fishermen who rely on health fish stocks to support their families and local communities.
During the week-long caravan tour, an impressive 6,000 representatives of large fishing ports across the country expressed concerns about the plunder of their marine resources. Fishermen placed their hand-prints on large banner, reading "Your voice counts, make it heard now". They are urging the candidates to commit to ending fishing authorisations being issued to foreign vessels, and instead support the local fishery sector.
And while fishermen in West Africa may seem a world away from small-scale fishing communities in Europe, they share a common bond. Both small-scale fishermen in the UK and Senegal are struggling as a result of mismanagement by decision makers who favour the short term economic interests of the industrialised fishing fleets.
Over the last few years, with increased technology, fishing vessels have become larger and more ruthless in their fishing techniques. A good example is the Pelagic-Freezer Trawler Association (PFA) fleet, which includes vessels owned by Dutch, German and UK companies. They use sophisticated sonar equipment to track fish across large areas of the sea, and a pipe sucks fish from immense nets into the belly of the ship where a processing factory turns them into frozen blocks.
The PFA and other super trawlers now roam the global seas, hunting down our remaining fish stocks. West Africa isn’t their only target, the world’s largest trawlers now head south towards the edge of Antarctica in a scramble for whatever’s left.
And who’s funding this? We are. EU taxpayers’ money keeps factory fishing afloat. For example, the PFA received fuel tax exemptions of between €20.9 million and €78.2 million from 2006 to 2011. Taxpayer’ cover 90 per cent of the payments required for the PFA to have the right to fish in West Africa. EU funds helped the PFA build or modernise nearly half its fleet.
If all subsidies were removed, calculations show that PFA’s average yearly profit of around €55 million would, at best case, drop to €7 million, and at worst case, result in a loss of 50.3 million.
The mess we are in now is a result of mismanagement under the broken EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). But the CFP is in the process of being reformed. This happens only once a decade, and may be our last chance to turn the tide on a policy that has failed our oceans and fishing communities from Scotland to Senegal.
Issa Diop, a fishermen from Mauritania who came to the UK last year for our African Voices tour, sums up the issue perfectly:
“Our message is to tell the world that overfishing is very serious. Why is it serious? Because big vessels destroy the seas. There are fewer and fewer fish as technology is advancing at a fast rate. 23 million people are dependent on the fish stocks in West Africa. If you continue to overexploit these fish stocks, 23 million people will suffer.”