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CTA. 2003. Gone, fishing. Spore 106. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47989
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore106.pdf
We really should be going fishing no more.Not unless there are political and economic changes as deep as any ocean.
We had done well to heed the advice of Mamadou, to wrap up against the chilly Mauritanian night and the bumps of his boat. "You ll be sore long before dawn," he had winked, "stay alert by counting my catch, on the fingers of one hand if it s like it was last week." In the distance, west-north-west, under the fleeting light of a moon, lights jerk and bob and swing like dancers grouped above the waves. The whish of the wind is broken by an occasional barked comment in the dark, or a fisherman chatting into a mobile phone. Mamadou s solemn face is almost golden from his lantern, except when he turns on his hand-held computer. Then it beams the image, a ghost-like grey, of a satellite-guided map as if he didn t know his exact position anyway, some 10 km offshore, above sandbanks washed by the high tide. We peer to the west, deep into the dark. See them or not, hear them or not, there lie the fleets of factory boats, busy vacuuming the ocean deep sucking out every atom of life from the sea, as if it was dust, and as if there is no tomorrow. There is, to be sure, no tomorrow in a world which treats its open seas, and all that lives there, as rapaciously as a horde of looters raiding a shopping centre after a fire. The results of this overfishing are clear. For a local fishing community, such as the Mauritanian fisherfolk, it is the loss of catches today that will affect their tomorrow, since the intricate ecosystem of the ocean that allows many species to spawn will have been severely disturbed. That sets off an ugly spiral of sagging incomes, no investment, erosion of local livelihoods, impact on culture and worse. For fisherfolk 7,000 km away, off the white sands of the Tanzanian and Mozambican coasts, the impact of foreign trawlers at sea is compounded by the development of coastal tourist facilities which impede access to inshore fishing grounds. Continue south-east another 1,000 km or so, to the coasts of Madagascar there industrial-scale prawn farms have dislodged both local fisherfolk and the mangroves so cherished as the breeding ground of aquatic biodiversity. Catch your customer Why are the coastal waters off Namibia, Mauritania and Senegal some of the most fertile fishing grounds in the world so full of foreign fishing boats: from China, Japan, the ex-Soviet Union and, in great numbers, the European Union? Why do EU boats negotiate fishing rights around the vulnerable island of Kiribati, literally on the other side of the world (see Spore 101)? The answer lies in part in the marine flesh piled high in the worlds fish markets, such as the raw and raucous fish halls of Tokyo in Japan, or Madrid in Spain. As any fish trader there will tell you with myopic passion, there is a demand to be met, even if fish prices in the shops are soaring as fast as nets being hauled to the surface. The answer lies too in the chained-up trawlers on Canada s north-eastern coast, or on the almost deserted fish quay of North Shields in north-eastern England. Once, North Shields was home to 122 fishing boats, which played their part in depleting the North Sea of the cod and herring so much a part of European culture. No more. In mid-June 2003, a local skipper told Spore that the quay was "on the brink of decimation", with the three remaining boats having too few permits to chase too few fish. The hunt for more fish is getting harder. Less for locals To fish is to hunt, and there is not much wrong with that. Man is a hunter, after all. Professor Stella Williams of Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria calls fishing "an ancient human tradition, involving the hunting and gathering of aquatic products for food", though she forcefully emphasises the role of women in inshore fishing, and in processing and marketing. "The tradition of fishing has been transformed over several decades to become a resource extraction industry spanning the entire globe. Nature s limits of aquatic life have been breached by too many fishing craft catching too many fish." One simple sum brings her point home: more than 60% of fish products consumed in the EU come from outside EU waters, and yet 70% of fish stocks worldwide, said the FAO in 2000, can be considered as fully or over-exploited. The result: less for locals, themselves prone to overfishing. According to FAO, over the past 30 years the availability of fish per capita in Africa as a whole has declined, and in countries such as Ghana and Liberia the average diet contained less fish protein in the 1990s than it did during the 1970s, when it accounted for about 20% of the animal-protein intake. For nine African countries, fishing contributed more than 5% of Gross Domestic Product in 2000. In the Caribbean and Pacific, similar levels exist but all countries are vulnerable. Yet look at the development plans of most of the 63 ACP States with coastal fisheries, from trade to livelihood to nutrition, and there is always an assumption of increased and improved fisheries. It s a management problem Just as men and women on land soon caught on to the benefits of stewarding the resources they would hunt and gather agriculture, in a word then so it must be when they visit the sea. An EU fisheries spokesman recently defended its fishing policies: "Fishing in third countries is not unethical, the point is to make sure it is done in a proper way." One attempt is contained in the Fisheries Partnership Agreements which transform bilateral deals from the earlier pay, fish and go access agreements that allowed about 500 EU boats to fish in ACP waters into joint investment in sustainable fisheries. This is a sea change indeed; no wonder that the talk at the April 2003 co-seminar of the Commonwealth Secretariat and CTA in Brussels, Belgium on ACP-EU fisheries relations was full of words like "challenges" and "broadening mutual interests". When the cake has to shrink, who wants to slice it? What shines through the mists of mistrust are two, irreconcilable attitudes. One is the dogma of EU fishery interests: accepting a repackaging, but not a restructuring, of their apparent right to fish anyone s fish. At play here are consumer interests, electoral concerns about job losses in European ports and some very well-placed, and somewhat cavalier, vested interests. Against them stands the more reasonable approach, often spawned in civil society, to re-engineer a sector that has over-extended itself. For the former, it is the blunt negotiation of how much can we get? . For the latter, the issues are more subtle. How to redirect the massive EU subsidies from EU fleets and their low quayside prices, to the overriding need for proper management not so much of marine resources, but of the way people deal with them: methods, measurements, catch periods, monitoring and policing, capacity building, local processing, quotas for local markets, regulatory mechanisms, and even fair fishing? How to mesh redirected subsidies with the World Trade Organization s intolerance of any at all? Management, too, of the process of including small fishing communities in the development of coastal aquaculture and marine farming, as opposed to simply more responsible marine hunting. Give fish a chance At the macro-level, in Europe, North America and North-east Asia, there is frantic but focused lobbying of the donor communities to redirect their resources to empower local communities in the management of their fisheries in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific. And at the micro-level, there are heartening examples of exchanges between fisherfolk of the Caribbean and West Africa, or the Indian state of Kerala and East Africa, swapping experiences in catch management, cooperative organisation and processing. Many solutions lie in such local initiatives, but the real problem fishing fleets from afar lurks out on the horizon. It is on that horizon that change has to come. Every culture has its fishing songs. From the quay of North Shields in England, comes this one, but it could be from anywhere: "Dance to your daddy, my little laddie; dance to your daddy, my little man; you shall have a fishy on a little dishy; you shall have a fishy when the boat come in." In terms of ACP-EU fisheries relations, the question is not only whose boat it will be that comes in or if there will be a fishy aboard, but also if there are any little laddies (and lasses) still there when it does.