Overfishing in Mauritania

Grace Russell

Overfishing has grown to become a threat to the global industry and well being. The World Wildlife Fund stated last year that the amount of fish in the oceans has halved since 1970 in a plunge to the “brink of collapse” caused by overfishing and other ocean threats. Damage to coral reefs and mangroves, which are nurseries for many fish, add to problems led by overfishing. This issue specifically affects the future and livelihood of fishermen and their families around the world.

Mauritania, located in the North-West of Africa, has some of the world’s richest fishing grounds along its 720km Atlantic coast. The strongest driver of the economy for purposes of local consumption and exports is fish. But overfishing, and other climate challenges seek to destroy its gains. The Mauritanian coast possesses high levels of biodiversity, promoting a rapidly growing fishing trade, most of which is required by law to be sold through the state managed Société Mauritanienne de la Commercialisation de Poissons (SMCP). The country’s coasts are among the richest fishing areas in the world, and fishing accounts for 25% of budget revenues and GNP, 50% of foreign currency earnings, with 70% of the 100,000 tons of annual production exported yearly. Fishing, in turn, generates 45,000 jobs accounting for 36% of all employment. However, due to policy failures on the part of the Mauritanian government, overfishing is threatening the Mauritanian coastal biodiversity and the fishing livelihood of the people who depend upon it.

The president himself stated, “Our African continent suffers an abnormal situation characterised by the existence of numerous resources yet the citizens are often suffering from poverty. The only way to improve this situation is with good governance.” Overfishing is destroying traditional livelihoods along the coast of Senegal, which borders Mauritania. Fish catches are collapsing there after years of overfishing, mainly by foreign trawlers, some of whom are fishing illegally. Meanwhile, Senegal’s traditional fishermen have been evicted from the rich waters of neighbouring Mauritania, leading to a vicious circle of rapidly falling catches, economic desperation and yet even more overfishing. Some have continued crossing the border, provoking an armed response from Mauritania’s coastguard. Foreign journalists in Mauritania discovered an insatiable onshore fish processing industry now being encouraged across the region, and consuming catches on a vast scale. Much of the industry is fed by big foreign trawlers, and the end product, known as fishmeal, is exported to wealthier countries to feed livestock and aquaculture. Mauritania has a fisheries and transparency initiative which is an attempt to end secretive contracts that aid overfishing. It has sought to enlist the support of businesses and civil society in embracing responsible fishery management. Such an initiative has been hailed by the industry as a major milestone in taming overfishing, which costs west African countries up to €1.1bn in depleted stocks every year.

Experts say closing fishing grounds and cracking down on illegal fishing gives stocks a chance to recover. Safeguarding the oceans can help economic growth, curb poverty and raise food security.

The EU has renewed a four-year fishing agreement with Mauritania that will allow more than 100 EU vessels into Mauritania’s waters in return for funding of local fishing communities. But the deal has its critics. Since 2009, EU fish imports have risen by 6% each year. The agreement, which dates back to 1987, is considered crucial because it is the most comprehensive agreement the EU has had with any African country. It forms part of a series of partnership agreements that give EU vessels access to a third country’s fishing waters. The new deal will come under the EU’s common fisheries policy, which has committed to work on more sustainable fishing, in stark contrast to the overfishing of the African coast that was undertaken in the past. The agreement now allows EU vessels to catch shrimp, tuna, demersal fish and pelagic fish totalling up to about 280,000 tonnes each year. The EU will pay for the catches and commit €59m every year to the partnership, with €4m supporting the fishing communities in the west African country including environmental sustainability, job creation, and tackling illegal and unregulated fishing. The EU vessels covered under this arrangement come from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Germany, Ireland, France and Latvia. But the fishing deal has received growing criticism from researchers and environmentalists who have accused the EU of exporting its problem of overexploitation to African waters. The argument is that although Mauritania has received more than €1bn in return for EU fishing rights for the past 25 years, there is little to show how the money is benefiting local fishing communities or improving the country’s fishing sector. Trawlers are almost obsolete and even the marked growth in traditional fishing techniques has been without government participation. The EU’s presence is unsustainable and a hindrance to Africa developing its own robust fishing sector.

A Crisis Under Water

Much like global warming, ocean acidification is a serious result of rising carbon dioxide emissions. Putting at jeopardy millions of peoples health around the world who are depend on ocean life, whether it be their livelihood or their nutrition. Compared to pre-industrial levels, there has been a 26% increase of ocean acidification, a resultant of a rapid increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. Sulogna Mehta in Times of India states that, now the current rate of acidification has shown to be over ten times faster than any other period within the past 55 million years. Both the ocean and atmosphere maintain a ratio of CO2, the ocean hold approximately 30% more CO2 than the atmosphere. This notion is a good one, when thinking about the atmosphere and how it potentially could be even worse. However CO2 reacts with water, forming carbonic acid. Carbonic acid can be considered a “weak” acid, none-the- less is an acid, which produces hydrogen ions in the ocean, lowering the waters PH and making it more acidic. The oceans acidity has increased 250%, making the ocean the most acidic it’s been within the past 25 million years. This issue has made a major impact worldwide, however it has become an extremely prevalent problem in places such as India.

The people of India witness the cruel result of ocean acidification in their day to day lives, due to its negative impact on the sea food they rely on and in many cases their livelihood.

“The rate of acidification of oceanic water with subsequent decrease in the pH value in northern

Bay of Bengal (Vizag-Bengal region) is faster than elsewhere in the world, making this region a highly acidifying zone.”, states The Times of India. Researchers have found that many pollutants from the Indo-Gangetic plains as well as China and Bangladesh have been mixing with seawater in Indian waters because of the regions elevation compared to that of flat land, in return causing the oceans acidification. Ocean acidification has an immense impact on the food chain, due to it’s acidification reducing the growth of planktons, fish feed and shelled marine creatures. Globally, the rate of decrease in PH is .0019 unit / year, however in the Bay of Bengal it’s rate is at a high of .006 unites/year. During winter months, pollutants carried via the air blowing from the land to the sea, include acidic chemicals such as sulphates, nitrates and ammonia. Also, Nitrate and sulphate aerosols eventually deposit in the ocean decreasing its PH. Many metals in the water that are needed for phytoplankton or basic fish feed to grow, also change due to ocean acidification, decreasing plankton growth. Low PH causes a negative effect on the entire food chain.

India firmly believes that, being inclusive of ocean acidification mitigation and adaptation plans must be included in any future international climate change agreement. India also feels that putting money towards strengthening it’s now weak powergrid, in order to improve green energy sources effectiveness. Such advancements are currently out of India’s reach due to its limited funds. India believes that legal advancements towards improvements in ocean acidification are essential to Indian ocean life’s well being but as well as the potential benefits Indian coastal communities which have been heavily impacted by the effects of such issues, leading such communities into a smooth adoption period of changing social, economic, biophical, and ecological circumstances. In return any advancements would aid not one prevalent issue but two. Finally, after lengthy research, India believes the cure to ocean acidification is the same as for climate change. As previously mentioned, 30% of CO2 dissolves into the ocean, and efforts to stop the excess production of CO2 is deemed to help prevent further ocean acidification. If human efforts were made to complete the goals established in the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only India, but globally the world would alleviate itself from some of the negative climate change and ocean acidification have caused human kind.