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Parliamentary debate is essential for sustainable fisheries

19 January 2012

An interview with Dr Ahmed Senhoury

Ahmed Senhoury is the Director of the West African Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation programme (PRCM) Coordination Unit. The PRCM is a joint initiative of four NGOs involved in the sub-region (IUCN, WWF, Wetlands International and the International Foundation of Banc d'Arguin (FIBA), in partnership with the Sub-regional Fisheries Committee (CSRP). It covers seven countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde. 

Q The PRCM is a conservation programme for the coastal zone. How does this translate in a region where the population depends heavily on the exploitation of coastal fisheries resources?

If we want to preserve marine and coastal areas, it is primarily for the benefit of local populations and with their involvement. For example, we built up a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the countries covered by the PRCM, which are managed through collaboration with all stakeholders, including MPA managers and fishing professionals. But, beyond their value in terms of conservation, protected areas provide goods and services – such as tourism and recreational activities – that can help provide livelihoods for local communities. Where well used, MPAs can contribute effectively to poverty reduction programmes.

MPAs are of course useful for spatial management of fisheries, because these sites are a safe haven for fish species, which allows them to reproduce and therefore contributes to the health of fish stocks.


Q: Do you think that this tool could help regulate the activity of the industrial fleets, national and foreign, fishing offshore?

Currently, MPAs are mainly located in coastal areas, but it is actually important to develop MPAs on the high seas. In Mauritania for example, studies made offshore in recent years by oil exploration companies revealed the existence of coral areas, forming the basis of a diverse ecosystem, which should be protected. Initiatives should be taken in this direction. This would also help to explore how these spatial fisheries management tools could contribute to reducing the fishing pressure on the resource, by domestic and foreign fleets, including European.


Q: Could the establishment of such MPAs be part of the future fisheries agreements?

In general, it is crucial that fishing agreements involving the access of foreign fleets exclude all types of fishing that are damaging to the environment. Secondly, it is true that supporting the establishment of MPAs, both in coastal areas and offshore, could contribute to more sustainable fisheries. The EU, which knows the fisheries scene in our region well and is committed to sustainable fisheries, could provide a model for other foreign fishing actors to follow, including countries like China, which are now developing a strong presence in the region. A key element is to have greater transparency in our countries on the access to our resources provided to foreign fleets.

Last November, the African Confederation of Artisanal Fishing organisations (CAOPA) organised, supported by us and others, an exchange on transparency in marine fisheries.

The findings are alarming: in Mauritania, an agreement was signed with a Chinese company, granting it access to fish resources for 25 years. This agreement will bring some 25 trawlers, 10 seiners and other vessels – mostly targeting fish resources that are already in a state of overexploitation, such as octopus. The agreement with the Chinese company also gives access to the fishery for small pelagics for fish meal. This will generate significant competition with the local fishing sector, which is fishing for human consumption. Whichever point of view we take, there is nothing in this agreement for the long-term benefit of local populations.

In Senegal, fishing licences have been allocated, with a complete lack of transparency, to Russian and East European trawlers fishing for small pelagics. Similarly, information on Senegalese joint ventures with foreign partners and vessels is almost impossible to obtain. In Guinea-Bissau recently the conclusion of an agreement with a company from the Emirates, worth €200 million a year, was announced. You see, examples of where greater transparency is needed are not lacking!


Q: What concrete measures could improve the situation in your view?

Given this situation, I must say that one of the measures proposed by the EU for reform of the fisheries agreements could play a decisive role: the EU demand to have full transparency on cumulated fishing effort in the waters of our countries is essential. Not only is it essential for the EU to be able to sign sustainable fisheries agreements and ensure that its boats do not participate in overfishing, but it is also essential for African citizens, who, ultimately, are those who benefit, or who are victims of how our ecosystems are exploited.

From my point of view, there are two areas to be considered to satisfy this demand for transparency. First, the publication of information on agreements allowing foreign vessels to fish in our waters, regardless of the form these agreements take, both bilaterally between governments and with private companies, through the constitution of joint ventures, etc.

Secondly, we also need to encourage a better assessment of our resources and of fishing impacts, not only on the target species, but also on species caught as by-catch and on the environment in the wider sense.

Q: You mentioned the importance of involving citizens in these debates. How could such a citizens’ debate be structured in African countries?

For PRCM, a central element is for national parliaments to fully play their role in the development and implementation of national fishing policies. This is why we have facilitated the establishment of a network of parliamentarians: the Regional Network Alliance of Parliamentarians and Local Elected Representatives for the Environment (APPEL), which has a working group on fisheries.

It must be realised that our parliamentarians are generally not equipped to understand fisheries issues, which are often quite complex and technical. The APPEL network currently covers all the countries covered by the PRCM (except Guinea, which is still in a situation of political transition). APPEL has six networks of national parliamentarians, each benefiting from the help of a parliamentary assistant. These networks develop quickly: in Cape Verde, half the national parliamentarians today are members of the national network. These national networks are federated at regional level, which allows exchanges and debates between them, the organisation of field visits, participation in international meetings, etc. It is an appropriate framework to discuss issues related to the access of foreign fleets and fishing agreements. Otherwise, it must be said that these agreements are adopted in the absence of any real parliamentary debate. The members of the network have already made a commitment to support the adoption and implementation of the Convention on the Minimum Access Conditions, which, precisely, addressed issues related to the access of foreign fleets to the resources of the sub-region.

I must also mention that on 20 November 2011, thanks to an initiative taken by this network of parliamentarians and their partners, including PRCM, the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, meeting in Lomé, endorsed the idea of working on the impacts of the reform of the external dimension of the European Common Fisheries Policy. A statement on this will be presented at the next Joint Assembly meeting, in May 2012, in Denmark.

Therefore, as you can see, the network is mobilising strongly on issues related to the access of foreign fishing fleets, and in particular in the context of the relations with the EU.

But I think parliaments are also a forum to discuss issues related to the fisheries agreements with the EU that go beyond purely fisheries, including the question of human rights.


Q: Indeed, the EU is now proposing to introduce a 'human rights clause' in its future agreements, which seems to pose some difficulties in some cases, as in the negotiations concerning the renewal of the agreement with Gabon. What do you think?

I think that if this clause is applied to promote respect for human rights in our countries, and is consistent with what is contained in the Cotonou Agreement, it is very worthwhile. However, if the African countries have the impression that this clause will be used to apply pressure, this may pose problems. Most importantly, once again, the application of this clause has to be done in a transparent manner, based on objective criteria, and in a context of dialogue, to improve things if necessary. It is in this spirit that the EU and the ACP countries concerned should address these issues.


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