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18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
Africa pays high price for Europe’s illegal plate of fish
Europeans are eating “laundered” fish, harvested illegally from African coastal waters by pirate Asian trawlers while governments deny African fishermen the right to sell their catch within the European Union.
The double standard, which allows factory ships from China and South Korea, cloaked in EU permits, to loot Africa’s shoreline but prevents Africa’s artisanal fishermen from earning a living, was condemned this week as a “travesty” by President Koroma of Sierra Leone.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels are exporting their catch, often processed in filthy conditions, into Europe and on to our plates. The pirate vessels “launder” the IUU fish by transferring the catch to other vessels carrying import numbers issued by DG Sanco, the European Commission’s directorate-general for health and consumers.
Sierra Leone’s huge fish stocks are one of its biggest opportunities, Mr Koroma told a conference in Stockholm. “Sierra Leone is banned from exporting fish to the EU, when fish illegally caught in our waters and repacked elsewhere are ending upon kitchen tables throughout Europe, costing our economy an estimated $30 million per year,” he said.
Pirate vessels are taking between 11 million and 26 million tonnes of fish worldwide, a catch worth between $10 billion and $24 billion. In sub-Saharan Africa, the cost of the illegal catch is estimated at $1 billion (£611 million).
An investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation found extensive evidence of IUU fishing in Sierra Leone, where fishing comprises a tenth of the economy and supports 230,000 people.
A spokesman for Sierra Leone’s Fisheries Ministry said that there was “widespread fishing by IUU vessels, mainly Chinese, [South] Korean and Taiwanese”.
Faced with overwhelming evidence of pirate fishing, DG Mare, the European Union’s fisheries authority, is expected to tighten regulation.
Despite the widespread abuse by pirate fishing vessels of DG Sanco documentation, Sierra Leone has been unable to convince the European Commission that its fishermen should be allowed access to European markets. In order to gain DG Sanco approval as a “competent authority”, Sierra Leone must show that boats in its fleet can meet certain hygiene standards, but so far it has been unable to pass the tests needed to lift the ban on its fishermen.
Meanwhile, the Fisheries Ministry spokesman said, “there is no evidence that the boats carrying the DG Sanco numbers are applying the EU hygiene standards while at sea. The IUU trawlers also encroach close to shore and damage the small-scale fishermen’s nets.”
Pirates are only one of the injustices inflicted on West Africa’s fishermen, who are also faced by an armada of European Union trawlers. More than 700 European trawlers are plying the coast of West Africa and the Indian Ocean. They operate under Fisheries Partnership Agreements (FPA). Costing more than €150 million (£138 million) this year, the agreements with 20 mainly African nations allow EU trawlers almost unfettered access to coastal fisheries and an unlimited quantity of fish.
The African states are getting “a horrible deal”, according to Kajsa Garpe, programme officer for marine ecosystems and fisheries at the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC). “They pay by vessel tonnage, there are no fish quotas. The agreements are unsustainable, unfair and they have very little to do with partnerships.”
In December, the SSNC will present a highly critical report — To Draw the Line — on the EU’s FPA programme to the European Parliament. The report’s investigation into partnership fisheries in Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Guinea (Conakry) found widespread overfishing and serious depletion of a number of species, including shrimp and Thiof or grouper, a valuable West African food fish and the national dish of Senegal.
According to the SSNC report, the €7 million earned this year by Guinea-Bissau represents a third of the Government’s budget, making the country dependent on the FPA for survival. Agreements stipulate that a quarter of the money paid should be spent on developing fisheries and monitoring compliance, but there is little evidence that this is done. According to Ms Garpe, in many cases, the money is used to repay debts to foreign banks.
In the report, Cirilo Vieira, Guinea-Bissau’s director of fisheries, laments the waste of the EU fishing trawlers, which never land in Guinea-Bissau and dump most of their unwanted catch: “An EU vessel that catches 2.5 tonnes of shrimp per day can dump 25 tonnes of [other] fish! Fish that we need for human consumption.”
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