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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.

Islamic State Strikes Again: Sex Slavery

Devastating humanitarian crises occur all over the world daily and often fly under the radar. Particularly in areas of the middle east where societies fall far beneath their dictatorial governments, citizens and minorities lack the help and support they need. It is important for the United States to know that in August of 2014, as ISIS conquered large parts of the Sinjar area of northern Iraq, it targeted hundreds of thousands of Yazidis for extermination, executing hundreds of the men and kidnapping them for forced labor. As they advanced through huge swathes of Syria and Iraq, Islamic State commanders ridded their territories of all religious minorities that would compromise their vision of a new Caliphate, ruled by Sharia law and untainted by the infidel. The Yazidis are neither Muslim nor Christian but worship a peacock god which, in the eyes of the Islamic State group (IS), make them satanists and a valid target for extermination. Among the mass killings, thousands of women and children were detained, prompting President Obama to warn of an unfolding genocide. After detaining the Yazidis, the Islamic State systematically separated young women and teenage girls from their families. It didn’t matter if the women were married, had kids or siblings. Nearly 7,000 Yazidi women and children were captured by ISIS fighters according to U.N. Investigators. Many of the women were turned into sex slaves for the militants. Woman who were later interviewed by the Human Rights Watch stated that many of the girls were are young as 12 or 13 years old. It remains the duty of the United States, alongside other developed countries, to send aid to the facilities that were put in place to help the victims of this horrendous disaster recover.
Many young woman and girls were able to escape and lived to tell their stories of this horrific humanitarian disaster. Three young Yazidi women escaped from sex slavery and travelled to London, where they told their personal stories. They wouldn’t show their faces to the camera because, they say, they still have friends and family being held by the fanatics, and they fear the repercussions that they might suffer if they reveal their identities. “We were raped up to five times a day,” says 20-year-old Bushra. “One girl went to the bathroom and slit her wrist. When she did not die she cut her throat. The guards wrapped her in a blanket and threw her out with the rubbish.”
Although the thick of this disaster was years ago, there are lasting effects that continue to go unsolved. Bushra admitted that out of her seven brothers, only one managed to escape, and the other six are still missing to this day. She describes the IS commanders as “Between 50 and 70 years old”, and she explains, “I was 15 when I was selected by a commander. He said younger girls are better than older ones. They usually select the most beautiful and youngest girls for themselves.” She admitted that “There was nothing they didn’t do to [her].” The women and young girls were raped, beaten, burnt with cigarettes, sold over and over again, and in many cases murdered.
Traumatised and exhausted from their daily beatings, they nonetheless seized any opportunity to escape captivity. Many people were eventually placed in internally displaced people camps in Iraq, but others were slowly redirected to the UK, and many to Germany where they are given counselling for trauma, rape and abuse. In January 2016, some woman were given the chance to heal and rebuild their lives thanks to the “Special Quotas Project.” The ambitious scheme, launched by the German state of Baden-Württemberg, brought 1,100 women and children — all former ISIS captives, and mostly Yazidis — to the country. The state of Baden-Württemberg set aside approximately $114 million for the pilot program. Psychologist Dr. Jan Kizilhan, a trauma specialist from Germany, interviewed the survivors to gather a sense for how they could be helped. “The youngest girl I examined was 8 years old. And she was about eight months in the hands of ISIS. She was sold 10 times,” Kizilhan said. “That means in the period of eight months she was raped hundreds of times, every day.” The women and girls in the program live in 23 shelters spread across this affluent region of southern Germany. The location of the shelters remains undisclosed in order to protect the survivors from the reaches of ISIS or their sympathizers. The survivors have two-year special visas, with the option to stay in Germany permanently.
According to Yazidi activists, there are still at least 2,400 women and children in the hands of ISIS. Kizilhan has already been planning for their care. He is training Yazidi and Kurdish psychologists who will be able to treat the survivors in Iraq. While the blunt of this crisis occured years ago, thousands of yazidi victims could still benefit from United States investments and aid at this time. As a developed democratic nation, it is both the responsibility and the interest of the United States to express our disapproval in the behaviors of the Islamic State and support the people of the Yazidi minority. Although the situation in Iraq was and still remains dire, Germany’s support has allowed for there to be hope of recovery for thousands of Yazidi woman. As allies to Germany, a nation that shares many social views as the United States, we should lend aid to organizations that they run, not only to support Germany but more importantly to save thousands of Yazidi woman from trauma, captivation, and abuse. With U.S. awareness and involvement, we could prevent similar future humanitarian tragedies from occurring.