Dr Ahmed Mahmoud Cherif is a former Director of Fisheries in Mauritania and, in this capacity, he negotiated several fisheries agreements with the EU. He is today an independent expert, specialising on issues related to the development of the fisheries sector in Mauritania. He is also president of a Mauritanian association, Pêchecops (Generating social progress through ecological fishing). In this capacity, Dr Cherif was invited as an expert by the European Parliament, at the end of June 2010, to share his views about the future of the fisheries relations between the ACP countries and the EU, in the context of the reform of the CFP.
An interview with Dr Ahmed Mahmoud Cherif, Mauritania
Q: The reform of the Common Fisheries Policy now under way also covers the Fisheries Partnership Agreements (FPAs). Do you think that a reform of FPAs is necessary?
First of all, I would like to congratulate the EC for the debate launched last year on the basis of the Green Paper for the reform of the CFP. It is an example of good governance, of transparency in the management of public affairs, and it is a lesson of democracy that should inspire all of us. The direct consultation of the stakeholders is the best way to devise adequate measures, help the sector to adopt them, and facilitate their implementation. This being said, I think a reform of the FPAs is essential. Because these agreements have not had the beneficial effects we hoped for in the development of our ACP fisheries.
Mauritania, which signed the most important FPA with the EU, both in terms of fishing possibilities and financial contribution, is a case in point.
Q: How was the situation of Mauritanian fisheries influenced by the successive fisheries agreements with the EU?
The sectoral policies adopted by Mauritania these last decades were all centred on the protection and the sustainable exploitation of fish resources and on the integration of the fisheries sector to the national economy. The strategy applied during the years 1987-91, was already based on the two elements which are put forward today: the local landing and use of the catches in Mauritania and the strict adjustment of the fishing effort to the natural potential of fish stocks, on the basis of the maximum sustainable yield (MSY).
But the quest for national revenue has torn this strategy to pieces, and we have observed a massive issuing of fishing licenses to foreign vessels, including Europeans. This has increased the degradation of some stocks like the cephalopods. Several scientific working groups (at CECAF level, the FPAs joint committees, etc.) have confirmed the results of the work done by the Mauritanian Fisheries Research Institute, the IMROP: that these cephalopod stocks have lost more than two-thirds of their abundance, due to an excessive flotilla operating with the blessing of the government.
With regard to the other pillar of the Mauritanian sectoral policy, the local landing and use of the catches, today, from the 900,000 tonnes caught in the Mauritanian EEZ, only a little more than 10% are landed in the country. This is too small to allow profitable processing activities geared towards adding significant value to develop. The policy to promote value addition to fish products for export has run up against the lack of available raw material available.
The FPAs were used for financing pillars of the fisheries-management system, like research, monitoring and control. But the financial contribution was essentially used to cover the running costs for these institutions, whilst their basic infrastructures, and related equipments (ships, laboratories, monitoring equipment, etc), financed by other funders like Japan, Germany, France, remained largely insufficient.
This is a bad use of the financial resources coming from the FPA. It can be explained by the improvisation which accompanies the determination of the financial contribution level, as these remain proportional to the fishing possibilities negotiated for the European vessels.
Consequently, either the two parties may close their eyes on the way the financial compensation is used and whether it is used efficiently, or the funds accumulate and cannot be absorbed. Meanwhile the fisheries sector suffers from an obvious deficit of infrastructures. In fact several infrastructure projects have remained on hold for years for lack of financing.
In addition, the fact that European vessels are not compelled to land their catches in Mauritania limits considerably the effectiveness of various management measures, and constitutes a fertile ground for vessels engaged in IUU fishing. Indeed, it is virtually impossible, however effective the MCS instruments may be, to control all industrial fishing vessels at sea. Also, it is more difficult to get data on the catches from this fleet, both for the commercial species kept on board and for the by-catch that is discarded due to its low commercial low value. Based on such skewed figures, current research, whatever its performance, can only produce approximate results.
Q: How did the local fisheries sector evolve in that context?
Today, the national sector is reduced to a few dozen freezing plants, or conditioning plants of fresh products for export, which are supplied primarily by the artisanal fishing sector.
Currently, artisanal and coastal fishing are proving to be the only viable national fleet. These fleets ensure the full coverage of local consumption needs; they supply more than 80% of the raw material to the factories; they have a sales turnover equivalent to 35% of declared exports, and provide livelihoods to people engaged in a myriad of activities, generating value addition estimated at 85% of the sales turnover. They also provide 90% of the 40,000 jobs in the fisheries sector. If you add to that the fact that these artisanal and coastal fleets use only fixed gears that have a limited impact on the ecosystems, you can see the whole range of the comparative advantages of this type of exploitation.
80% of the industrial fleet is of Chinese origin and obsolete. The majority of the boats are over 30 years old, and many no longer meet necessary standards of safety and hygiene. It is a situation which you find in many countries of the region where the industrial fleets are ageing.
Q: You mention the historical importance of China for the industrial fleet. Is this presence still felt today through new investments?
In the 1990s, China benefited from the Mauritanian authorities’ impatience to introduce its fleet of cephalopod-fishing trawlers, which contributed to a large extent to the over-exploitation of these stocks. Why? Because, at the time, it was the only party that offered a solution to Mauritania which wanted to renew its national fleet.
Today, China is still investing in a significant way in the very sensitive area of local value addition of fish products, for which the EU offered only very timid answers. The local landing and use of the catches and their valorisation has now
become a leitmotiv for Mauritanians, who increasingly reject the current situation where, as many Mauritanians say, ‘we know that our country is very rich in fish, but we never even see the colour of it’.
Lately, by announcing an investment of US$100 million dollars in the processing of small pelagics, China has impressed people’s minds and taken an important psychological advantage, even if, taking account of the bad experience we had with them in the 1990s, with the entry of its trawling fleet, we should be more careful this time ....
Q: The EU, as you say, offered only timid or inadequate answers to the needs expressed by Mauritania. What future is there for the fisheries cooperation and partnership between the EU and Mauritania?
As paradoxical as it may appear given all the criticisms made, from my point of view, the EU has a central role to play in the sustainable development of Africa’s western fisheries and their integration into the local economies. First of all, it’s part of its interests and obligations as a neighbour of these countries, but also as a signatory of international treaties on sustainable development, development assistance and the fight against poverty. But this is also in line with its commercial interests, as the main market for fish products, the main provider of maritime goods and services, etc. For the ACP partners, in addition to technical and financial benefits, they also expect partnership in the form of foreign direct investments (FDI) in their fishing sector. The European presence also constitutes an opening towards the largest market of fish products, and opens the door for cooperation in fisheries research, good governance, etc.
Q: Could you detail what you understand by ‘cooperation for good governance’?
This could be achieved through the setting up of a good-governance framework, allowing for a rational management and a sustainable exploitation of the fish resources, in line with the spirit of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Such a framework would put particular emphasis on strengthening monitoring, control and surveillance systems, on fisheries-management systems based on the adjustment of the fishing capacities of fleets to the potential of the fish stocks, on the basis of the best scientific advice available. This framework, endorsed by the two parties, would also define the conditions of access for the foreign fleets to the surplus resources not exploited by the nationals, and would ensure the conditions for total transparency concerning authorised fishing activities: a list of authorised vessels accessible by internet, etc.
Q: Should private and public investments be integrated into these future fisheries relations?
We have significant needs for investment. Here special mention must be made for financing the infrastructures and superstructures necessary for the local landing and use of the catches: a pelagic port, and a shipyard to receive and treat all the vessels operating in the EEZ.
Such localisation of the catches would introduce greater transparency into the management of the sector, with a more rigorous follow-up, more reliable statistics, and favouring considerably the local impacts, in terms of value addition, revenue for the state, foreign exchange, availability of diverse fish products for the local market and the processing industry, without forgetting the creation of thousands of jobs.
European public funds should be released to support European private investments in such industries in ACP countries.
One could also imagine a system of assistance for installations for the European operators. The training of women and young people in fishing-related jobs is also a field where investments are necessary. One could also constitute a bank of projects for private operators, looking at products with high added value, like the poutargue etc. Ideas are not lacking and the EU remains a privileged partner for Mauritania to concretise them.