"Unsustainable EU bid for Senegalese fisheries"

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afrol News, 10 April - The European Union's bid for a 60 percent increase in fishing access rights in already overexploited Senegalese waters, threatens the survival and sustainability of these fisheries, and contradicts proposed EU policy, WWF, the conservation organisation said today. Opposition to "irresponsible" EU negotiated fisheries agreements is also growing in Senegal. 

- The European Commission knows first-hand the devastating effect ill-managed fisheries have had in its own waters, said Dr Claude Martin, Director-General of WWF International in an open letter to EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler opposing the EU's plans. "It is inconceivable to think the Commission would use taxpayers' money to export this unsustainable fishing practice to threatened coastal states in West Africa."

With Africa's fisheries increasingly under pressure from highly-subsidised foreign fishing fleets, and lack of resources hampering the monitoring systems of most governments, reports that the EU is seeking to increase its access to fisheries in upcoming talks with Senegal also signals the urgent need to create national and regional fisheries' management plans, according to the conservation organisation.

Every year, the EU spends about 270 million Euro (US$ 250 million) to purchase access to fisheries' resources in other countries, the majority of which are in Africa. While this brings in much-needed foreign-currency to these countries, the payments are often way below the real market value. 

The current EU fishing agreement with Senegal ends in May 2001 and the next round of negotiations is scheduled to resume on 20 April, 2001, in Brussels. Similar fishing agreements with the West African states of Mauritania and Guinea Bissau are also set to expire soon, and the Commission is expected to renew these agreements as well. "While such negotiations should be based on expert assessment of sustainability of the fishery resources available, that is not so with the latest EU bid which flies right in the face of proposed EU policy," the WWF claims. 

Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal are all taking independent action to protect fish and marine life off the coast of West Africa, where local opposition to EU overfishing is growing. Some 600,000 people in Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal are directly dependent upon fishing for their incomes, but the stocks are rapidly being depleted. Migration to the cities and desertification are putting additional and worrying pressure on the coastal areas. 

Senegal is to announce a project to develop marine protected areas within its territorial waters to respond to these threats. Mauritania is to ban all commercial fishing in the coastal wetlands of the Banc d'Arguin national park. Guinea-Bissau is to announce the creation of the Joćo Viera / Poilao national park - a 500 square km marine protected area in the southern part of the Bijagos Archipelago. EU bids to increase its fishing access rights thus comes at a time when these West African nations are struggling to enhance the protection of their fragile marine environments. 

- The conservation and sustainable use of fisheries' resources should be the starting point for fishing access agreements with third countries, not the short-term needs of the European Union, said Dr Martin. The Commission's own Green Paper on the Future of the Common Fisheries Policy, released last month, clearly states as one of its aims the acquisition of "fishing rights in the waters of third countries without threatening the sustainable exploitation of fisheries."

Poverty reduction is the main objective of the Community's development activities and the Commission has said adoption of the Green Paper ties in with the EU executive's commitment to improve consistency between development policy and other Community policies, such as fisheries and trade. Poul Nielson, the EU Commissioner for development co-operation and humanitarian aid, described the paper as an important document. 

The WWF says it believes that the European Union should match its words with action. "There is potential for both West Africa and Europe to benefit from sustainable and equitable fisheries co-operation, but this is not what is being offered," said Dr Martin. 

Sources: WWF and afrol archives 

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