- The government of Comoros this week signed a six-year fisheries agreement with the European Union (EU). The new fisheries protocol reduces the number of EU vessels fishing tuna in Comoran waters and strongly increases licence fees payable by the ship owners. Greater control measures are to limit European vessels' overfishing in these fragile Indian Ocean waters.
The fisheries protocol was signed in Brussels by Joe Borg, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Mohamed Abdoulhamid, Comoran Minister of Rural Development, Fisheries and Environment. The deal, which was backdated to 1 January 2005, regulates the access of EU fishing vessels in Comoran waters until the end of 2010.
According to a statement by the European Commission, the new agreement has taken environmental issues more seriously than the previous 1998 fisheries protocol, due to the 2002 reform of the EU's fisheries policies. Environmentalists however still hold that the EU is overfishing in the waters of developing countries, with large quotas seriously damaging national coastal fisheries.
The agreement signed in Brussels nevertheless was a significant progress for the government of Comoros compared to the 1998 protocol. The EU is to pay a financial contribution totalling euro 2,340,000 over the 6-year period covered in the new protocol.
Furthermore, the Comoros can expect an additional annual state income of approximately euro 560,105 per year from license fees paid by EU vessel owners. The licence fees payable by the ship owners have been increased by almost 50 percent to euro 3,375 for seiners and euro 2,065 for long-liners.
While revenues are to increase for the Comoran government, the EU has to lower its number of fishing vessels in Comoros. Licences were granted for 57 vessels fishing for tuna, down from 65 under the previous protocol. These include 40 tuna seiners - which is an unchanged number - and 17 long-liners, which is down from 25. As total quotas are not defined in the protocol, a possible use of modernised vessels however may end up fishing the same amount of tuna in Comoran waters.
The new protocol also addresses another issue of concern, namely the limited control possibilities of Comoran authorities. Many EU fisheries nations are known to disrespect quotas in foreign waters and it is widely assumed that unlicensed European vessels have been fishing around Comoros. The new protocol includes control and monitoring measures, including provisions on satellite monitoring of all fishing vessels in Comoran waters.
The waters surrounding the Comoran archipelago are rich in tuna and other fish, but local fisheries are an important food source for Comoran nationals. Fish resources further are interconnected with those of the Seychelles and Madagascar and environmentalists fear that overfishing now is taking its toll on fish stocks in the south-western Indian Ocean, similar to developments in the Atlantic Ocean. Also here, EU vessels are blamed for ruining the marine environment and local fisheries.
In the case of the new EU-Comoros fisheries protocol, Commissioner Borg however claims that the agreement will provide for sustainable fisheries. "The fishing possibilities are in line with the measures agreed within the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC)," Mr Borg said before signing the protocol. According to the EU, this would "ensure the sustainable management of this stock" and would use "the latest scientific advice" from the IOTC.
The protocol is also to assure economic development ad poverty reduction for the Comoros, the EU holds. According to Mr Borg, "this agreement will contribute to the development of the fisheries sector in the Comoros." At least 60 percent of the EU's financial contribution is to be dedicated "to support the fishing policy defined by the government of the Comoros," the protocol says. Special emphasis is put on the development of the Comoran fisheries sector.
The EU has been negotiating with Comoran authorities since November 2004 to reach a new fisheries agreement with the Indian Ocean state. The relatively long negotiation process reveals a tough climate in previous meetings, especially on the EU's annual financial payments.
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