Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Conservationists have repeatedly warned of dwindling stocks of fish off the West Africa coast, stretching from Mauritania to Guinea. Most point to over-fishing by European fishing fleets, which force small local fishing boats to concentrate their efforts in sensitive coastal areas. Six deep-water large fish species are steadily drifting towards extinction. Harvested specimens show declines in both weight and length.

Cameroon boasts 15,000 square kilometres of continental shelf and four million hectares of inland waters. Yet current local fish production remains around 157,000 tons per year, while demand is around 300,000 tons. As a result, Cameroon's fish imports rose to nearly 200,000 tons in 2011 (up from 150,000 tons the previous year). The Citizens' Association for the Defence of Collective Interests (ACDIC)  blames rampant malpractice by foreign trawlers in the face of stagnant fish supply, especially Chinese-flagged vessels. "They are still doing twin-trawling despite several government warnings, and are using small-mesh nets to fish even in off-limits waters reserved for local artisanal fishermen. And worse still, they dump the smaller fish in Cameroon and take the bigger ones to Europe," claims Albert Njonga, chair of ACDIC.

Sloans Chimatiro, Senior Fisheries Advisor at the New Partnership for Africa's Development explained: "The activities of foreign vessels must be closely monitored possibly with the use of satellites and high-speed patrol boats to check undeclared fishing; corruption by law enforcement officials must be severely punished; countries should set up large marine reserves; EU subsidies must be reconsidered, etc., [or] else the strains on fish stocks in this part of the world will run out of control."

 Along the Cameroon's 400-km coastline, artisanal fishermen and traders are stretching the limits of legality to stay in business. One current practice is the use of chemicals, including pesticides, to indiscriminately kill fish which are then scooped out of the waters. In Senegal, similar troubles have led industrial and artisanal fishing to slump. Experts blame overexploitation and a dramatic rise in habitat-destroying fishing techniques like the use of dynamite and twin-trawling. Foreign companies with fishing licenses bring in money and the sector constituted 13% of Senegalese exports and 1.7% of its GDP in 2009.


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