European fishing vessels are illegally plundering African fish stocks, contributing to poverty and an ‘increase in criminal activity’, say campaign groups.
Fish catches in Europe have been declining by around two per cent a year since the early 1990s with most stocks exploited beyond sustainable levels. This has led to an increasing dependance on fish caught outside of Europe, with European waters as a whole only providing half the fish needed to meet consumer demand.
Many vessels are now travelling further afield to get their catches with around 20 per cent of all fish landed by EU fleets caught outside the EU. Consumers may be largely unaware of this because if the fish is caught by a EU vessel it can still be labelled as EU produce, even if it comes from the waters of a third country.
Some of these vessels have been discovered to be fishing in African waters - a direct violation of EU regulations - where fish stocks are a critical part of both the diets and economies of coastal communities. A delegation of fishermen from Senegal, Cape Verde and Mauritania are meeting European officials in Brussels this week to complain about the unfair competition and over-fishing.
'When we speak to fishermen in the regions, we hear often that it [invasive fishing practices] is increasing poverty and increasing the wish to migrate or find a job elsewhere', said Greenpeace EU oceans’ policy advisor, Saskia Richartz, which is organising the fishermen's visit.
This analysis was shared by the Environmental Justice Foundation; 'Our ongoing surveillance activities have identified vessels owned by companies based in the European Union operating illegally in West African waters and supplying the European seafood market. Their activities compromise the food security of coastal communities, devastate marine environments, undermine legitimate fishers and violate the new EU regulation to eliminate IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing', says EJF's Andrew Hickman.
Overfishing and piracy
Campaigners from both Greenpeace and New Economics Foundation (NEF) believe the increasing decline of natural fish resources could also be indirectly fuelling crime and piracy. 'It’s no surprise that the loss of livelihoods resulting from the depletion of a national asset – fish stocks – combined with the lack of, or weak, governance structures has led to an increase of criminal activity as we’ve seen in places like Somalia,’ says the New Economics Foundation's head of environmental economics Aniol Esteban.
The EU is due to put forward proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy, which sets out the rules and catch quotas for individual member states, in July this year. The EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki has promised to enforce a stricter regulation of conservation and fisheries laws - something campaigners say they now want to be put into action.
'The reckless disregard for rules and scientific advice by too many officials favours companies that cheat and cut corners. This wrecks the environment and discourages those fishermen that want to make a sustainable living out of the sea. The forthcoming reform of European fisheries must deliver a new rulebook that protects our oceans and ensures the sustainability of fishing,' says Richartz.
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