The second round of negotiations for the renewal of the EU–Mauritania Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) concluded without reaching agreement. Various stakeholders gave their views about the remaining areas of disagreement between the parties.
There had been initial disagreement over the end date of the protocol: the Mauritanian government considered that the current 2-year agreement became effective on 31 July 2012, when it was initialled and when some EU vessels were allowed to fish in Mauritanian waters. However, the European Commission emphasised that the date was 16 December 2012, when it was ratified by the EU Council of Ministers for signature and provisionally entered in application before the European Parliament’s decision in October 2013. A third round of negotiations held in July found a compromise: EU shrimp and small pelagic trawlers, which did not take licences before the end of 2012, will be able to continue fishing in Mauritanian waters until the end of 2014.
The overall costs of the agreement also raise issues. In the second round of negotiations, the EU offered to reduce the compensation, paralleling a quota reduction for small pelagics, from 300,000 to 200,000 tonnes due to a low level of utilisation observed in 2013 and 2014. The argument here is that, with the changes of fishing zones for small pelagics, some stocks are now out of reach for the EU fleets. The objective of the EU is indeed to obtain better value for money from this protocol on the basis of the actual catches made by the EU fleet in Mauritanian waters. To offset this decrease, the EU also proposed to allocate a higher grant for sustainable fisheries development through sectoral support.
In an interview, the Mauritanian chief negotiator responded that “It is not a rule of three where you pay less if you fish less.” The financial compensation is a right of access, reserving a quota for EU fleets that cannot be allocated to another party, despite the risk that Mauritania may lose amounts corresponding to the ship owners’ fees if they do not come. It provides EU fleets with access to an area that has abundant fish, is safe and is close to the EU and African markets. The EU also pays for having priority access to the resource over all other foreign partners. This financial compensation should not be confused with the fees paid by each vessel per tonne caught.
For the Mauritanian authorities, another major benefit of the current protocol is that it forces fishers to unload their catches in Mauritanian harbours. However, the Spanish fisheries sector considers such compulsory landings a disadvantage – as voiced during a visit of the EU negotiators to the Canary Islands, during which they highlighted that the current protocol resulted in the loss of 3,000 jobs and about €40 million. A platform of operators has been created with a requested a 5–10 year transitional period, during which time they would (with EU support) cooperate with Mauritania, transferring technologies, infrastructure, procedures and know-how to develop landing/processing infrastructures in Mauritania, while finding business alternatives for their own facilities.
Finally, the fishing ban for European cephalopod vessels is still a problem for the Spanish fishing sector, which thinks that with a new management model proposed by Spanish scientists, “there would be octopus for everyone.” On the contrary, the Mauritanian artisanal sector recently demonstrated, urging the government to continue implementing the agreement regarding the protection of octopus. In the report of its latest meeting, the EU–Mauritania SFPA Joint Scientific Committee notes that details provided by Spanish scientists so far do not allow them to validate this new management system.
The EU and Mauritania will meet in Brussels for a fourth round of negotiations.
The discussions about the renewal of the complex EU–Mauritania SFPA highlights issues that are significant for all ACP countries undertaking an SFPA. Undoubtedly, the former EU–Mauritania protocol included aspects that many see as conducive to local fisheries development, including compulsory landings of all catches. An often-mentioned relevant matter is the need to address the lack of local infrastructure and know-how in the third-country partner states concerned, in order to maximise benefits from such landings. The initiative proposed by Canary Islands operators (i.e. to plan with their Mauritanian counterparts the transfer of technologies, infrastructure, procedures and know-how in order to develop value-adding landing/processing infrastructures in Mauritania) is an interesting path to explore. As some NGOs have argued, desirable joint ventures between EU and ACP fishing operators – something which is promoted through SFPAs – may be more about value addition and processing in the ACP country than about catching fish. Sectoral support as well as European Development Fund support could play a facilitating role in achieving this.
Another key issue discussed here is the basis on which the financial contribution level should be fixed. Should it be proportionate to the level of fishing possibilities, to ensure value for money for the use of EU taxpayer money? Should new SFPA features (e.g. the fact that the EU has priority access to surplus before third countries) be encompassed in the setting of compensation and, if yes, how? How should the sectoral support be made complementary with other EU development funds? These and other questions suggest that there is a need for ACP countries that have an interest in SFPAs and the EU to open a dialogue about how the reformed EU external fisheries policy will be implemented.