New Mauritania-EU fishery agreement raises fears of overfishing

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afrol News, 1 August - The European Commission and Mauritania today renewed their fishery agreement, the most comprehensive the European Union (EU) has with a third country. While environmentalists are sceptical, the Europeans welcome the agreement and claim it is guided by the "principle of achieving sustainable fisheries".

The European Commission today stated it and Mauritania had "initialled a Protocol to the Fisheries Agreement for a period of five years from 1 August 2001 to 31 July 2006." The agreement renews an earlier agreement from 1996, a keystone in EU-Mauritanian relations and in the Mauritanian economy.

- I welcome this agreement, EU Commissioner Franz Fischler, responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, said. "It is beneficial both to Mauritania and to the EU. It provides some increased fishing opportunities for EU vessels and an enhanced financial contribution for Mauritania." 

Fischler claims the deal will benefit the development of the Mauritanian local fisheries sector. "This deal is in line with our guiding principle of achieving sustainable fisheries in third country waters. We have agreed on new provisions which will ensure the protection of fish resources in Mauritania, including a regular review of the situation on the basis of the state of the fish resources", Fischler said. 

The EU financial contribution will be increased from 266.8 million (about 240 million US dollars) to 430 million over the five years, subsidies paid by the European taxpayers. 

Part of this contribution will go to "a number of targeted measures aimed at improving the fisheries sector in Mauritania," according to a EU statement. The measure comes after environmentalists and local fishermen for years have complained that EU overfishing off the Mauritanian coast depleted the resources basis for coastal fishermen. Also "pirate fishing" by EU trawlers in Mauritanian coastal waters, including in national parks, have been a reported problem.

The EU measures aimed at improving the fisheries sector in Mauritania "include support for scientific and technical research aiming to improve knowledge of the state of the fish resources and to monitor their development, particularly in the case of cephalopods and pelagic species, in the Mauritanian fisheries zone," according to the statement. 

In order "to ensure sustainable fisheries", new provisions have been entered in this new Protocol. According to the EU, there will be regular examinations of the state of fish resources in Mauritanian waters. Should the state of fish resources warrant it, fishing possibilities are to be reviewed in the light of scientific advice. 

Under the new Protocol fishing zones where EU vessels operate have been pushed further from the Mauritanian coast to afford greater protection to the local small-scale vessels. To promote the development of the local economy and boost onshore jobs, a commitment has been made to undertake an increasing number of landings by demersal trawlers, in Mauritania, for the duration of the new Protocol. This will also strengthen control and monitoring of catches. The number of Mauritanian seamen to be employed onboard EU vessels has also been increased. 

In light of these improvements for the Mauritanian party, the poor, Saharan country seemingly has cut a good deal with the powerful European Union. The EU's economic contribution has increased markedly, control against pirate fishing is improved and coastal fishermen are given more protection. 

However, fears of overfishing prevail as the total quota has increased. According to the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), 60 per cent of the Earth's commercial fish stocks are overfished, and there have not been carried out sufficient studies of the carrying capacity of the stocks off Mauritania, environmentalists claim. Overfishing off Mauritania would also influence local, coastal fisheries.

Greenpeace claims that the biggest single threat to marine biodiversity today is overfishing. "Most of the world's major fisheries are depleted or rapidly deteriorating. Wherever they operate, commercial fishing fleets are exceeding the oceans' ecological limits," the organisation claims in its campaign against global overfishing. 

The Fisheries Agreement with Mauritania is the most important one for the EU in terms of fishing possibilities for EU vessels and with regard to the financial contribution. The first Agreement between the two parties was signed in 1987. Vessels operating under this Agreement come from Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland. 

Sources: Based on EU sources, Greenpeace and afrol archives Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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