Since its independence from France in 1960, Senegal has been one of the most economically stable countries in Africa. This stability has been threatened in recent years, however, as one of the country’s largest industries, fishing, has been compromised. As fish populations around the world have become severely depleted, the fishing fleets of some developed countries have started seeking out fishing grounds in developing countries. Overfishing by foreign trawlers in the waters surrounding West Africa has led to a massive fish shortage in Senegal. The shortage has destroyed the livelihoods of Senegalese fishermen and caused a malnutrition crisis throughout the country. Historically, fish caught by fishermen living in St. Louis, the largest fishing port in Senegal, has provided up to 75% of the protein consumed by the millions of people living in Senegal. In the last two years, the amount of fish caught by fishermen in St. Louis has decreased by 80%. Many of those impacted by the shortage in Senegal have been compelled to risk their lives migrating to Europe. Senegalese fishermen have started fishing illegally in the waters surrounding Mauritania. This has led to violent confrontations between Senegalese fishermen and the Mauritanian coast guard.
The current fisheries partnership agreement between the EU and Senegal allows EU vessels from Spain and France to fish in Senegalese waters. In 2015, the government of Senegal successfully negotiated for stricter protocol and regulations. The government of Senegal has had a difficult time monitoring and regulating the fish caught by Senegalese fishermen. While the country has implemented laws that require licenses and inspections, these laws are rarely enforced. Chinese trawlers contribute more to overfishing in the water surrounding West Africa than any other foreign fishing vessels. Senegal has had difficulty reaching a fishing agreement with China. China is currently funding large infrastructure projects across all of Africa. These projects have given China a great deal of negotiating power in its dealings with African countries and has made it difficult for Senegal to negotiate a fair fishing agreement.
Senegal plans to argue for greater protections for the fishing grounds of developing countries at the upcoming meeting of the United Nations Committee on Overfishing. Senegal has two primary goals that it seeks to accomplish at the Committee. The first goal is the creation of “artisanal” fishing zones with limits on the size of fishing vessels. Preventing large foreign trawlers from fishing within 20 miles of the West African coast would prevent the over-exploitation of fish resources and ensure that local communities benefit from those resources. The second goal is the establishment of an internationally funded West African maritime commission that will monitor and coordinate responses to illegal fishing. The majority of West African countries do not currently possess the resources to monitor their fishing grounds adequately. The commission will give West African countries the ability to direct their limited resources elsewhere and will significantly reduce the prevalence of illegal fishing in the region.