African countries

African countries must protect their fish stocks from the European Union

Fishing is a source of employment for millions of people in the small-scale sector on the African coastline. Their fishing activities in turn ensure food security for more than 200 million Africans.

To regulate the fishing industry, African countries have signed numerous agreements with trading blocs such as the European Union (EU). The EU has two forms of sustainable fisheries partnership agreements with African states: the tuna agreement and the mixed agreement.

The tuna deal allows EU vessels to pursue migratory tuna stocks as they move along African coasts and in the Indian Ocean. The mixed agreement gives EU vessels access to a wide range of fish stocks in the exclusive economic zones of the coastal state.



Read more: EU targets fragile West African fish stocks, despite protection laws


Eleven agreements are currently in force – seven tuna agreements and four mixed agreements. Ten of these agreements are concluded with African countries, including six in West Africa.

Although these agreements bring revenue to coastal states, which cannot extract the resources themselves, they are not all they appear to be.

Operating agreements

First, the traded value for these The agreements does not match the value of the species harvested, as this economically favors the EU over African states.

For example, when comparing access fees paid to what is extracted, the access value of sockets per EU fleets in Senegal (between 2000 and 2010) was US$11.9 million, while the reported catch value during the same period was US$19.2 million. In Guinea-Bissauthe access value of EU fleet catches during the same period was $5.7 million, while the reported catch value was $8.6 million.

Second, depleted or overused species – such as bigeye and yellowfin tuna, hake and sardinella – are targeted. This exacerbates the rate of depletion and compromises the food and economic security of local fishermen. Local fishermen cannot compete with the speed at which European vessels fish.

Third, some vessels that benefit from these agreements use the access to then engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. For example, landed value legal catch taken by the EU fleet in Senegal was $50.9 million between 2000 and 2010, while the landed value of illegal catch was $10 million.

There are other forms of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing perpetrated by EU vessels. For example, in 2017 it was reported that vessels from four EU countries — Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain — illegally vessels authorized to fish in the waters of The Gambia and Equatorial Guinea. This violated the exclusivity clause of the agreements which prevent individual operators to enter into private agreements with coastal states with which the EU has a fisheries agreement.

Nineteen vessels from these countries have been fishing under illegally granted permits for more than 31,000 hours in the exclusive economic zones of The Gambia and Equatorial Guinea.

Recent events suggest that there is an unwillingness on the part of the EU to penalize the vessels involved. More specifically, in 2019, the Coalition for a fairer fishing dealalongside other NGOs, sent a complaint to the European Commission asking them to initiate infringement proceedings against Italy.

They argued that the Italian fisheries authorities failed to meet their obligations under the Common Fisheries Policy to sanction the illegal activities of Italian trawlers in the Sierra Leone Inclusive Economic Zone.

The vessels involved had made incursions into coastal areas reserved for artisanal fishermen, catching species they were not authorized to catch, violating shark finning rulesusing the wrong fishing gear The Gambia and transhipment – the transfer of catches from one vessel to another without authorisation.

Despite a long history of illegal activity, the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries responded by noting that “no illegal activity of the operators can be proven in this case”. Their reason:

the lack of accurate nautical charts for the delineation of Sierra Leone within the Inclusive Economic Zone creates difficulties in identifying actual illegal activities from those taking place outside…

This position is problematic because many countries on the continent do not have demarcated maritime borders.

Protect resources

African governments must not allow this to continue. They must act to secure the livelihoods of their people, even when attracting foreign direct investment. The opportunity cost and cost of rebuilding fish stocks (depleted by all fisheries) in Africa between 1980 and 2016 has been estimated at US$326 Billions of dollars.

Income accrued by small-scale fishers in Africa has declined up to 40% During the last decade. This is because fewer fish are available. This is a huge challenge for food security where fish is the only source of protein.

Reduced catches are also associated with increased unemployment. In Senegal, for example, many blame fisheries agreements with the EU for destroying their livelihoods. This in turn drives dozens of young people to make the difficult and illegal journey to Europe.

Here’s how governments can deal with the situation.

First, subsidies paid by EU member states to their fishing industries must be withheld from repeat offenders of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. This was recently proposed by the European Commission to Members of the European Parliament. But the parliamentarians voted against this.

Other countries, such as China, are already taking action against fishing vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. For example, the chinese ministry of agriculture canceled subsidies and revoked licenses of three Chinese fishing companies in West Africa.

Second, African countries should prioritize investment in their industrial fishing sector. This would allow fisheries to be exploited by national vessels and sold for export. Higher incomes would be generated and jobs created for the continent’s growing young population.

Third, African governments need to do much more to ensure that future and renewed fisheries agreements are negotiated more robustly. This includes more clarity on how part of the revenue generated can be invested in the coastal communities most affected by foreign fishing vessels.

Fourth, African states should consider establishing collaborative initiatives that safeguard the social, economic and environmental contributions of their fisheries. There may be a lesson to be learned from Pacific Tuna Forum Fisheries Agency. It formed alliances to negotiate access as a bloc to balance power over agreements with distant fishing fleets.

Fifth, all suspected illegal activities should be thoroughly investigated. Dissuasive sanctions should be imposed where violations are found. This should be done regardless of whether the cases are settled in court or out of court.

Sixth, for transparent and accountable decision-makingthe following information must be publicly available:

  • License fees paid for access to fisheries resources and conditions of access

  • Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing offenses and penalties imposed or paid

  • Number of fishing days allocated to each licensed vessel

  • Total catches of all fishing sub-sectors, including by-catches

  • Make vessel monitoring data public. This could be done through the publication of unedited data from the vessel monitoring system and

  • the introduction of mandatory and functional automatic identification systems for all industrial vessels.

Finally, African governments must recognize the actions of the EU in safeguarding their respective national interests. It is time for African states to also prioritize and protect the interests of their people.