Greenpeace Accuses EU of Subsidizing Plunder of African Fish Stocks

B. McPherson

Greenpeace International is accusing the EU of subsidizing the plunder of West African fish stocks. Loans to fishing companies have enabled consortia to modernize their fleets of trawlers and factory ships allowing them to take ever more fish from the waters off Morocco and Mauritania.

This has had the effect of depleting the fish populations in the area, forcing the African fishermen to venture ever further out in their small, low tech vessels in search of diminishing catches. In effect, the taxpayers of the European Union have been paying corporations to plunder the fishing grounds off West Africa.

Ten years ago alarm bells were ringing about the unsustainability of the fishing activity in the Mauritanian waters. Permits to foreign trawlers amounted to about 25% of the Mauritian economy. The native fishermen are badly outclassed when it comes to harvesting fish. They have open boats often powered by the wind. What used to take them less than a day to catch enough fish for their needs now can take up to two weeks.

“In one day,” confirms Greenpeace, “these behemoth vessels can capture the same amount of fish as thirty or forty traditional pirogue boats would catch in one year.” ViennaReview

While agreements with W. African governments make the exploitation of fish stocks legal, little money received seems to trickle down to the people that the overfishing affects the most. Aside from the EU countries, Japan, China and Russia have signed agreements to fish in the African waters.

Another problem facing the artisanal fishermen is the presence of pirate fishing vessels poaching large quantities of fish. An estimated $1 billion in poached fish are caught in African waters each year. Vessels from South Korea, China and Panama have been named as having poached fish. Much of the illegally caught fish finds its way to European plates.

Aside from paying out hundreds of millions of dollars to non-sustainable fishing fleets, the policy of sieving the oceans of their bounty leaves the fishermen of W. Africa without a way to make a living. The fishermen of Somalia found that fleets of vessels in their traditional grounds hoovered up the bounty and left them with little. They turned to small scale piracy and finding success turned to ever more ambitious schemes.

This looks like a case of the wealthy again exploiting the poor. The fishing grounds of Europe and the Grand Banks have been depleted and the focus is on the rich fishing of the people who are too poor to protect their wealth.

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