According to the United Nations, over 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted. Some species have already been fished to commercial extinction; many more are on the verge.
Over-fishing is emptying the seas faster than nature can replenish them, threatening the food security of hundreds of millions of people. Destructive fishing, climate change and polluting industries are threatening the survival of many fish species, whale and dolphin populations and whole marine ecosystems.
Exploitation off West Africa’s Coast
West African nations have some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, yet their food security is under threat. European and Asian fishing fleets have moved into West African waters over the past 30 years after depleting their own fish stocks. Sub-Saharan Africa is now the only region on earth where per capita fish consumption is actually falling, partly because foreign fishing fleets have removed so many fish.
Anxious to earn hard currency to service their national debt, the governments of African coastal nations have been selling the right to fish in their waters to hi-tech, foreign industrial fleets. The hope is that increased fish production will help local economies by providing more jobs, more money and more food.
In reality, this super-efficient factory fishing does nothing of the kind. Instead, in the almost total absence of monitoring, control, surveillance and management plans, too many fish are taken from African waters. The catch winds up on the dinner tables of rich countries or in their animal feed whilst many Africans go hungry. The foreign fishing fleets take their catch to ports far from Africa, making millions of dollars, while Africa’s coastal communities grow poorer.
In just one day in 2001, a Greenpeace ship observed that over one third of the vessels fishing off the coast of Guinea were there illegally, fishing well inside the Guinean exclusive economic zone. In 2006 during a follow-up survey, the number of ships fishing illegally had risen to half.
Each year, this cash-strapped, food-starved nation loses as much as US$100 million in stolen fish, while the estimate for the entire West African region is about US$1 billion. The impact of over-fishing has been catastrophic for local livelihoods and the environment. In Guinea, for instance, up to 90 percent of marine life is now estimated to be lost, reducing food security and causing increased poverty.
Greenpeace is campaigning to stop the theft of fish from African seas and to develop viable alternatives to overfishing, alternatives that will help develop a locally operated and financed fishing industry; one that will protect livelihoods, alleviate poverty and ensure the supply of vital food to local people. These would help restore the region’s highly degraded marine environment without negatively impacting Africans’ food security.
As the captain of a local fishing boat sums up, “If we don’t have a sustainable policy for this sector, we will have no fishing whatsoever. We urgently need to carry out a sustainable policy, especially for small-scale fishery. The whole region depends on small-scale fishery.”
Greenpeace is calling for:
- An end to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing;
- Elimination of destructive fishing practices to ensure sustainable levels of marine life;
- A reduction in the size and numbers of foreign fleets fishing in African waters, with increased monitoring and control of those that remain;
- A network of well enforced marine reserves across the region;
- Sustainable fishing and fish processing operations managed and financed by Africans, providing livelihoods, food security and enabling poverty alleviation in the region;
- Africa’s waters managed by well-funded, functioning regional oceans management organisations.