Exploitation of African seas and fisheries: time to stop turning a blind eye
- By Bob Dewar
April 04, 2012
Interests of the poor coastal communities and the fishermen with smaller
boats and less damaging gear are usually overlooked
The history of Europe's fishing agreements with African and other developing
countries has been chequered. In late 2011, there were 9 current and 5
dormant African fish protection acts (FPAs). The first phase ended in 2002
when it was acknowledged that the 'pay, fish and go' approach had to convert
to 'partnership agreements'. But the next phase also came up short, not
least because these agreements weren't integrated into food security or
So the 2012 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, with stated objectives to
bring (over)fished stocks to sustainable levels in order to benefit EU
citizens and stewardship of the seas, is a welcome opportunity to do better.
The Europeans need real reform in their own back yard - dramatically
rebuilding stocks, preventing over-capacity, over-fishing and damage to the
environment. And the mirror of better behaviour should then be shone abroad,
so that African and other developing countries get maximum benefit. The
Africans, in turn, need to think through how new 'Sustainable Fisheries
Agreements' (the new name given to EU fisheries agreements with developing
countries, emphasizing 'partnership, development and sustainable fisheries')
can help bring better governance, food security and poverty reduction.
A big challenge in today's economic context is converting good intentions
into practice. Vested interests want 'business as usual'. Thinking longer
term- vital if fish stocks are to regain health - can seem a political
luxury. Scientific data is sometimes mysteriously lacking and compliance
weak. Meanwhile, it's the interests of the poor coastal communities and the
fishermen with smaller boats and less damaging gear which are usually
Why do many of us in Europe and Africa forget the sea when thinking about
conservation and food security? It's not as if we do not read reports about
disastrous drops in fish stocks of some species from over fishing, with all
the consequences for national economies and jobs; about the drop in catches
and average size of fish caught; about unmonitored factory ships, damaging
gear and illegal fishing; about the 'discards' nonsense; or about how lack
of fish has fuelled emigration and poverty along some African coasts.
Why then the blind eye? Perhaps the high seas are part of the tragedy of the
commons, merely someone else's problem?
We have inter-generational responsibilities, so what would European and
African children want, if we asked them? I suspect they'd want both good
conservation and healthy fish stocks. Win-win.
A combination of conservation policies and fisheries management tools does
exist that might achieve that.
For Europeans this is an opportunity to walk the talk. To implement full
transparency; have an eco-system approach; be science-based; and fit the
precautionary principle (don't fish where a surplus is not proved). It's an
opportunity to aim for food security by reviving healthy stocks, by moving
on from the weaker management tools (eg quotas) to a toolkit incorporating
the stronger measures like no-take reserves, seasonal closed areas, banning
or restricting damaging gear and limiting days at sea. Fishing agreements
should also be integrated into development policy - after all they are about
food and nutrition.
For African partners this is an opportunity to ensure transparent and good
use of fishing revenue, building domestic capacity and access for national
fleets; and keeping healthy seas for artisanal and small scale fisheries,
deploying a range of measures to help such communities including
Of course this isn't just an issue for Europe and Africa. West Africa used
to have some of the world's richest fishing grounds, but Asian, as well as
European fleets, have taken their toll over the decades. There are some
similar worries off the coast of the Indian Ocean side of the continent too.
There needs to be a planetary level playing field and that's where Regional
Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) come in. A genuinely reformed CFP
and better EU agreements with Africa might influence behaviour of other
world fleets. Better international fisheries governance should surely
benefit every country's fisheries, including developing ones.
We can't take our magnificent marine eco-systems for granted any more. Nor
can we take our traditional fish suppers - fish and chips or ceebu jen- for
granted. The time of turning a blind eye is over.
Bob Dewar is a former diplomat, having served as High Commissioner to
Nigeria, Amb. to Ethiopia and High Commissioner to Mozambique.
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Received on Wed Apr 04 2012 - 13:16:18 EDT