Wednesday

30th Sep 2020

Opinion

Transparent fisheries must go beyond European borders

  • Mauritania will be the first the world to implement the new Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI), but Indonesia and the Seychelles (photo) have also announced their intentions to commit. (Photo: Mikael Korhonen)

For several decades, European boats have been fishing in Mauritanian waters, where warm and cold currents mix to produce some of the world’s richest fisheries.

So important is this agreement that Mauritania now provides more fish to Europe than do Italy or Ireland.

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  • And the signs are clear that foreign boats are taking too many fish. (Photo: Mar Cabra)

It puts fish on the plates of European consumers and brings precious foreign currency to Mauritania. My country is proud of its fisheries, an important source of fish for Europe. We have similar agreements with other countries too.

We must take care to strike the right balance, however. Fisheries have been a key source of food, nutrition, and livelihoods for centuries all around West Africa’s rich Atlantic coast.

Today, these fisheries still support as much as a quarter of all livelihoods in the region, including trade.

Illegal fishing

Under international law, foreign fleets can fish only surplus fish, the fish that are not wanted by Mauritanian fishermen. But foreign factory ships can take enormous quantities of fish - much, much more than our local fishermen with their traditional wooden boats.

And the signs are clear that these foreign boats are taking too many fish.

Catch sizes are getting smaller, Mauritanian fishermen must travel further out to sea in order to earn their living. And as our region’s chronic food insecurity forces more and more people to try their hand at fishing, overfishing by foreign boats is threatening our way of life.

This dynamic cannot last.

This is not just an economic or development issue, of course. It is also a matter of security, because the alternatives to fishing are unpalatable.

Other countries in the Sahel show us, for example, how poverty and unemployment make fertile ground for organised crime and terror. Take fisheries away from our people, and they will have little else to lose.

Visionary agreement

In this spirit, I welcome the renewed fisheries agreement signed in November between Mauritania and the European Union. With new focus on sustainability, this is a wise and visionary agreement.

In addition to the catches paid for by the European fleet, the European Union will pay more than €59 million per year, including funds to support local fishing communities. The agreement also requires European pelagic trawlers to take on board 60 percent Mauritanian crew.

Even when the science shows us how much is “surplus”, however, we must ensure that we are fishing the correct amounts.

To build the necessary trust, our European and other partners may want reassurance that we are not selling this “surplus” twice. Our fisheries contracts must be transparent. This holds true for our contracts with other countries too.

My country understands this. For a year now, Mauritania has been pioneering a new approach on contract transparency, working with fisheries and governance experts from around the world, including from the United Nations, the EU, the World Bank, private sector and non-profit organisations.

Transparency initiative

Together, we have travelled a long distance. We want to match European efforts to build transparency into fisheries with a new initiative of our own. We are excited about the result, significant not just for Mauritania but also the world.

Next month, we launch the new Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI) to the world.

Mauritania will be the first to implement this initiative, but Indonesia and the Seychelles have also announced their intentions to commit. I am hopeful that more and more countries will commit to more fisheries transparency.

Transparency in this instance refers to contracts. By making contracts transparent, Mauritania makes it harder to over-fish, or to fish illegally.

Transparency is not a solution in itself, but it is a critical part of any given solution. Each country commits to publish the details of all fishing contracts, giving clarity on who is allowed to fish and how much has been paid for those rights.

At the most basic level, this will show who has the right to fish in our waters. When combined with the increasing use of satellite technology, this means that we and others will have a much clearer idea of who is fishing illegally in our water at any given moment.

The stakes are high.

Our fisheries ministry estimates that better regulated fisheries could earn Mauritania an extra US$355 million per year, a sizeable amount for a population of 3.5 million people.

Sustainable business

This transparency will also stir informed and constructive conversation in Mauritania about how to manage our fisheries better.

When our contracts are transparent, our partners can check that the contracts are environmentally sustainable.

When it operates legally, business will also benefit from this transparency, which will generate a continued, more sustainable supply of fish. Finally community organisations and analysts will be able to check that the contracts safeguard Mauritanian livelihoods too.

Conversation is not enough, however. We also want to see impact.

A recent World Bank report argues that better fisheries management around the world could be worth US$ 83 billion each year. If we make a bigger cake, then we can all have a larger slice. It is in our common interests – government, business, and civil society – to work together on this. But too often reforms have failed because mistrust has been so high.

That is why the second key FiTI ingredient is participation. The initiative requires the collaboration of government, business, and civil society who must all authorise any reports published in the name of their National FiTI Multi-Stakeholder Group.

By sitting together, these groups will identify common problems, build consensus on how to fix them, and – critically – build the necessary trust for meaningful reform.

In this spirit of trust and participation, I wish to thank the European Union for its leadership in the fisheries sector and its constructive support to Mauritania, in particular.

I hope the EU will also support the FiTI, extending the transparency of European fisheries contracts to other foreign boats too. I look forward to welcoming European fisheries experts and officials to the FiTI launch next month and to our continued collaboration in the years ahead.

We all win when our fisheries are more productive and sustainable.

Sid’Ahmed Raïss is minister for economic affairs and development of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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