Human Journalism – best articles from

By Juan Luis Sánchez / Translation: Nerea Alonso

  • Fishermen from Mauritania and Senegal demand that the European Union put an end to the “looting” of their coasts.
  • “I think it is fine that European fishermen emigrate to Africa looking for work, but we want a fair deal”, Karim says.
  • 67% of European boats outside of community waters are Spanish

Several porters go towards boats that arrive with fish in the Saint-Louis shore, in Senegal. © Javier Bauluz, Piraván

“My father used to send me fishing, and in 5 minutes, before the water my mother had heated began boiling, I would be back with a couple of fish”. It’s not a passage from a magical realism novel, but a memory of what was common for Karim, a Senegalese man who is now 45 and who has seen from his house by the sea how the fish that used to give them food and work disappears.

Decades later, “when the fish started to disappear from our area, we had to move to another town so we could keep living off the sea. Three years later, I had to go to Gambia to work. Later, to Guinea-Bissau”, he says. “I’ve had to go around chasing the fish”, Karim, who inherited the trade from his father, remarks, “and adapting myself: we started using GPS, engines, monofilament nets, I worked for big European boats… until I had enough”.

Fish market. African coastal communities depend on fish as one of its main sources of food and income. Nouakchott - Mauritania. Christian Aslund/Greenpeace.

He had enough and Karim Sall became president of his village’s Fishermen’s Association and later of the West Africa Sea Reserves Committee. With another Senegalese, Raoul Monsembula, and a representative of the Mauritanian fishermen, Ahmadou Ould Beyih, they are campaigning to ask that European boats stop exhausting their waters, taking their fish and not giving anything in return. It is a crucial moment because the new Common Fisheries Policy is being debated over. It will come into effect in 2013 and it will regulate how much, how and where Europe will fish. 67% of Europe’s fishing fleet outside of community waters is Spanish.

What is being done up to now is clear to environmental associations such as Greenpeace: “looting”. Since 1989, industrial fishing has gradually conquered areas traditionally in the hands of local, traditional fishing. 17% of Senegal’s population lives off of it, according to Karim Sall. “It is true that European boats hire local population”, says Paloma Colmenarejo, from Greenpeace, “but, besides the fact that industrial techniques are destroying the resources, those jobs are less than the ones traditional fishing used to create”. And, besides, the fish comes straight to Europe.

“Capture zone: Central Eastern Atlantic FAO 34” says the label of this pack of female shark.

In the supermarket: FAO34

In the supermarket, fish that comes from the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal, Cape Verde, or Guinea Bissau comes with the label FAO34. The most – captured species are squid, prawn, sardines and mackerel. “We don’t usually eat squid or prawn”, Ahmadou Beyi tells us, “because they barely have any protein and they are not part of our diet; but they were one of the few species we could export. Now there simply isn’t any left, we have lost 30% of it in 10 years”, because besides they are not respecting the temporary fishing ban, a kind of “fallow land” for the sea.
The three fishermen assure that there are species that “have almost completely disappeared: hake, silver bream, Senegalese grouper”, for example. “A lot of times we have to eat couscous with mangrove seeds” – a tree that grows in mangrove swamps and shelters mollusk – “because there is no fish”. Most European ships in West Africa are bottom trawlers, the most damaging for the ecosystem, and some use longline hooks. More than two thirds of the 154 bottom trawlers are Spanish.
It’s not a fair competition. “Us fishermen don’t know the exact contents of the agreements between the companies, the EU and our countries”, Karim insistently complains. “The EU does publish how much money it gives each country, but it doesn’t specify which species and how many tons it allows to fish”, Paloma Colmenarejo points out.

Fish market. African coastal communities depend on fish as one of its main sources of food and income. Nouakchott - Mauritania. Christian Aslund/Greenpeace.

The Western African coast was already over-exploited before the Europeans arrived en masse. “75% of the ecosystem was already threatened by our own fishing practice”, they tell us. That is the reason why Paloma Colmenarejo points out that the answer is not for Europe to give the Senegalese or the Mauritanians boats so they can continue the over-exploitation of the fishing industry themselves, and they can benefit from the exportations, “because the problem here is that resources are running out. We have to support traditional fishing and decrease exports”.

As they report, “the European fishing industry has done a lot of damage, the few rules there are are not respected, in some cases not even the areas marked for traditional fishing. That is destroying the ecosystems and has even caused deadly accidents because of the co-existence of big ships with small fishing boats inside the same area”.

Fish market. African coastal communities depend on fish as one of its main sources of food and income. Nouakchott - Mauritania. Christian Aslund/Greenpeace.

“The Spanish come, loot all the resources, and when Africans don’t have anything to eat and they emigrate, they are not wanted in Spain”, says Karim drawling a circle on a paper, pushing the pen hard down. Even so, Karim is not against Europe fishing in their waters and also uses migratory terminology: “If there are no fishing resou.rces left in Europe, I’m fine with European fishermen emigrating to Africa looking for work. But we want the exploitation agreement to be fair to us”