- From northern Morocco to northern Angola; African Atlantic deep water fish stocks are to be monitored to avoid overfishing and illegal catches. Countries with fishing rights in these waters are now obliged to report all captures taken in these high-seas waters.
The fisheries in the West and Central African Atlantic waters within the countries' 200-mile exclusive economic zones have boomed during the last decades, mostly due to the selling of fishing rights to third parties such as the EU. These fisheries are highly regulated with quota systems, theoretically based on environmental calculations.
Beyond these 200-mile exclusive economic zones of Africa's Atlantic countries, however, in high-seas waters, the fisheries so far are basically unregulated. A modern fleet of fishing vessels increasingly is exploiting these waters, with a risk of fish stock depletion and serious consequences for the neighbouring national waters of Atlantic Africa.
This has now been dealt with at a three day meeting in Dakar, Senegal, of FAO's Fishery Committee of the Eastern Central Atlantic (CECAF). The FAO regional fishing body on Thursday announced its decision that its members should begin "reporting on capture levels of non-tuna species taken in high-seas waters off the western coast of Africa."
Defending its decision, the body cited the environmental fragility of the undersea habitats that these species depend on and their slow growth rates as reasons for its resolution.
In the high seas part of the CECAF area - those waters outside the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of West Africa's coastal countries - fishing focuses primarily on large tunas and tuna-like species, with skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna together accounting for around 89 percent of declared tuna catches.
Management of these tuna stocks already falls under the purview of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, an inter-governmental fishery organisation.
Currently, the only high-seas non-tuna species of commercial interest reported in the CECAF area is alfonsino, which live on underwater elevations known as sea mounts. The CECAF area includes ten such sea mounts.
While current catch levels of the alfonsino and similar deep-water fishes in the CECAF zone are low, there is "growing commercial interest in these species," according to FAO, "prompting the decision by CECAF countries to begin submitting annual reports on high-seas fishing activities for non-tuna species."
- Any exploitation of these species should be carefully designed, taking into account the very low level of sustainable yield of these fish populations and the isolation of sea-mount benthic ecosystems, said a CECAF report.
CECAF is set to use the information to track the well-being of these slow-growing fish stocks on a year-to-year basis. Monitoring will occur in those waters under CECAF's jurisdiction, which roughly encompasses an area extending west from the African coast to the mid Atlantic, starting from the northern tip of Morocco and ending at the Angola/Congo Kinshasa (DRC) border.
CECAF members include: Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Congo Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasa, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, the EU, France, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Romania, Săo Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Korea, Spain, Togo and the US.
This roster includes FAO member countries in Africa - whose territory borders the waters under the Committee's competence - as well as other FAO member or associate-member nations fishing in the area. EU fishing vessels are the largest outside group exploiting these waters.
- CECAF does not have any regulatory power, although it can adopt recommendations on management issues, such as last week's resolution, FAO says in a statement today.
The Committee was established in 1967 as a subsidiary body of the FAO charged with promoting sustainable development of marine resources, responsible fisheries management, and regional cooperation on fishing policy issues.
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