Environmentalists Target EU Access Agreement

Rolf Hogan

As part of its campaign to influence the ongoing EU reform of fishing deals
with developing counties, the World-Wide Fund for Nature has delivered
statements from West African fishermen questioning the benefits of such deals to
European Fisheries Ministers meeting in Brussels on 17th and 18th March.

WWF, who campaigned vigorously last year for environmental considerations to
be included in the EU's revised Common Fisheries Policy, is now focusing its
attention on the access agreements under which the EU pays third country
governments to allow European fishermen to fish in their waters.
The environmental group, which has criticised fishing deals between the EU and
developing counties as "contributing to overfishing and threatening the
food security of poor countries", has gathered statements from fishermen
and others in Guinea Bissau and Senegal. "These voices paint a picture of
the decline of the West African fish stocks as fishing rights are sold by
cash-strapped governments to foreign fleets," says WWF.

The West African's have witnessed foreign boats taking out too much fish -
sometimes illegally - leaving little for local fishermen. "Many valuable
species have disappeared," says 40-year-old fisherman Mario Alberto da
Silva from Guinea Bissau. "A few years ago, I used to come ashore every 24
hours to unload and sell. Today, I sometimes remain at sea all week."

"West Africa's rich fisheries have much to offer coastal nations in
terms of food security and as a base for national development," says WWF
"but local fish stocks are in decline. "

"Fishing could then take charge of other sectors which are still
dependent on outside aid and lay the groundwork for sustainable development of
the country," Malam Mane, Director of the government department for the
development of small-scale fishing in Guinea Bissau told WWF. According to Mr.
Mane the development of the fishing industry would help offer a future to the
large number of unemployed young people in Guinea Bissau.

While many of the EU's fishing deals allocate funds for the development of
national fishing industries, local fishermen rarely see any material benefit
from the agreements. "All the agreements have provisions about supporting
the small-scale fishing sector, but in practice the sector hasn't received
anything," says Mane.

The deals with 20 countries -mostly in Africa -- represent a substantial
chunk of Europe's fishing industry. According to the European Commission third
country deals account for about 20% of EU fish and shellfish production and
provide jobs for some 8 000 fishermen as well as 20 000 employed in ancillary
industries. But fisheries agreements also provide hard currency and jobs to many
developing counties. Roughly 3 000 local fishermen work on board Community
vessels and "landings of tuna by Community vessels provided half of the
supply required by canning factories in Dakar, Senegal, and Abidjan in Côte
d'Ivoire" says the Commission's Directorate General for Fisheries.
West Africa is an especially poignant example of foreign fleets stripping away
fish stocks. Fishing pressure in the region, mainly from EU, Russian and Asian
fleets, increased six-fold between the 1960s and the 1990s. But catches of
bottom fishes "have been stagnating since the mid 1970s at around two
million tonnes," despite a nearly threefold increase in fishing activity,
according Daniel Pauly from the University of British Columbia. The United
Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) also points to overfishing by foreign
fleets as a "significant factor in the decline of African fish
stocks."

West African governments are also partly to blame for the crisis in West
Africa's fish stocks but often desperate for hard currency they rarely listen to
their own fishing industries. "If the state would listen to us, it wouldn't
sign an agreement with people who catch everything, even the small fishes,"
Mario Alberto da Silva told WWF.

Responding to criticism the European Commission has tried to improve its
deals by allocating a greater percentage of the payments to improving local
capacity for tackling illegal fishing and developing local fishing industries.
While WWF admits that more recent deals are "better than the previous
ones" it says that they "are still highly questionable." The
environmental group published a report last week which reviewed deals between
the EU and four African countries - Senegal, Angola, Mauritania and Sao Tomé
and Principe. The report found that there is a huge difference between countries
in the amount the EU pays for access. The government of Sao Tomé was paid
11,000 Euro per EU boat while Mauritania received almost 347,000 Euro per
vessel!

While European boat owners pay a licence fee to fish overseas, "the EU
payments constitute a significant subsidy" says WWF. Rich counties which
deal with overfishing at home by subsidising boats to fish overseas have been
criticised by The World Trade Organisation and UNEP. WWF's investigation into
the four African deals also found that the value of the catch can vastly exceed
the amount paid by boat owners - for tuna boats in Sao Tomé and Principe, for
example, the value of the catch could be up to 40 times higher than the fee.

In December 2002 the European Commission outlined proposals to move from cash
for access deals to 'partnership agreements' in which "the conditions to
achieve sustainable fisheries in the waters of the partner country are
strengthened."

However, WWF is not convinced. "There has to be a major change in the
deals being signed if the Commission's plans for 'partnership agreements' are
going to mean anything in reality," said Julie Cator, of WWF's Fisheries
Campaign. It is expected that the EU Fisheries Ministers will finalise the
revised format for fishing deals next month.