West African fisheries are among the most productive in the world. The region’s coastal waters lie within one of four of the world’s major ocean upwellings, all of which can be found on the eastern boundaries of the Pacifc and Atlantic oceans. This phenomenon brings nutrient rich waters to the surface, ensuring an extraordinary abundance of life underneath the surface.
With a total surface area of 1.5 million sqaure kilometres divided between Mauritania, Gambia, Senegal, Cabo Verde, Guinea Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the waters of the Subregional Fisheries Commission’s members are an integral part of the FAO Area 34. Despite the small proportion of the global ocean surface covered by these areas, they supply around one-fifth of global marine catches. Small-scale fishing in this region plays a key role for job creation and food security and generates important income for local economies.
However, pressure from a growing number of African and foreign fishing fleets is having a detrimental effect on these vibrant waters. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has raised concerns regarding the repercussions of stock depletion due to overfishing on food security and the economy of West Africa.
Importance of West African fisheries
Around seven million people in the region are part of the value chain and rely on fish for income and employment, many millions more depend on fish as a source of animal protein. It is estimated that around 300,000 jobs have already been lost in the artisanal sector due to a lack of policies that protect both fisheries and livelihoods.
The degradation of West Africa’s marine and coastal environment has become more acute in recent years, due to a combination of rapid population growth, urbanization, natural disasters, and overfishing. In March 2017, the Greenpeace ship “Esperanza” embarked upon the “Hope in West Africa” ship tour to shed light on an environmentally and economically unsustainable situation in some of the world’s most fertile waters. Working in close cooperation with the Subregional Fisheries Commission and the authorities of coastal states, the “Esperanza” conducted joint surveillance operations in the Exclusive Economic Zones of Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
A new report details findings and analysis from the two months of surveillance at sea and on-land engagement activities with officials, communities and youth organisations. It also provides a set of recommendations to help West African governments live up to their responsibilities, and to jointly manage both foreign and local fishing activities to safeguard their waters, and ensure a fair and sustainable distribution of marine resources.
The new Greenpeace report can be downloaded here.