I’m out in the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere off Mauritania in West Africa, aboard the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise. We’re here to document and expose the shocking overfishing of Africa’s coastal seas by huge fishing vessels from the EU and elsewhere.
Although I’ve only been onboard a few days, we’ve already seen dozens of fishing boats, from Russia, China, the Europe and elsewhere. Many of these are ‘legitimately’ fishing here, with access agreements with the Mauritanian government, but the sheer scale of the fishing is difficult to take in.
Just this morning we encountered a 115m long ship called the Cornelis Vrolijk. Despite the name this is a UK-registered vessel, with the port of Hull proudly painted on its hull. It is in fact the UK’s largest fishing vessel, a supersized trawler longer than a football pitch, and weighing about the same as 700 double-decker buses. It looks more like a cruise liner, or military vessel than a fishing boat.
The Cornelis Vrolijk is not the biggest ship out here, there are others even bigger. They are floating factories with the ability to catch and process hundreds of tonnes of fish in a single day. We’ve worked out that the biggest of these trawlers can catch in one day what would take 56 local traditional West African fishing boats a whole year. Since these huge powerful boats have the ability to fish relentlessly, the overall toll on the seas here is immense.
Already many of the fish species they are catching are considered ‘overexploited’ here. Although what is worse is that they are effectively stealing fish and livelihoods from local fishing communities. And all of that with the backing of EU subsidies.
This shouldn’t be happening. We are simply exporting our overfishing and our overcapacity to other parts of the world, stealing fish and trashing coastal communities in the process.
Just this week EU ministers agreed some well-sounding words on this sort of fishery (what they call the ‘external dimension’ = EU fishing in non-EU waters), and the UK fisheries minister has been leading the charge on that. We need now to have those sentiments enforced in reality.
Europe cannot continue to hoover up fish from West Africa’s seas. We should instead be working with countries in Africa and elsewhere to develop their own fisheries sustainably, including proper enforcement ability and onshore jobs in processing industries. For the developing world fish is a security issue, a food security issue, and a development issue, and the EU has an obligation to see it that way too.