Greenpeace activists have intercepted a tanker in the English Channel carrying fish oil from west Africa to Europe, to highlight the threat they say industry poses to food security and to livelihoods in the region. Activists and locals say the industry pushes up prices and depletes stocks of fish eaten by local people across poor communities in Mauritania, Senegal and the Gambia.
The Key Sund, a Norwegian-flagged vessel capable of carrying 4,500 tonnes of fish oil, the equivalent of 90,000 tonnes of processed fish, departed on 27 September from Nouadhibou, Mauritania. It was believed to be on its way to deliver part of its cargo to a fish oil company in France.
“This is big business stripping life from our oceans and depriving our fishing communities of their livelihoods,” said Dr Aliou Ba, the oceans campaign manager for Greenpeace Africa. “This trade in fishmeal and fish oil is not sustainable. The fish that goes into fish oil and fish meal could be used to feed west African people.”
Each year more than half a million tonnes of fish are being taken from the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal and the Gambia and converted to fish meal and fish oil, used mainly in agriculture and fish farms, according to a report by Changing Markets, a Netherlands-based organisation, and Greenpeace Africa. West African production of fish meal and fish oil has increased more than tenfold over the past decade, from 13,000 tonnes in 2010 to more than 170,000 tonnes in 2019, the report by Changing Markets and Greenpeace shows.
Globally, 69% of fishmeal and 75% of fish oil is used for aquafeed to produce farmed fish such as salmon and trout.
In the Gambia, artisanal fishers said they blamed their government for encouraging overfishing and allowing fishmeal plants to operate.
In Senegal, rocketing prices for sardinella and bonga, two species used in the fish meal and fish oil industry, are threatening the livelihoods of artisanal fishers.
The species, particularly sardinella, a staple food across west Africa, are overexploited, “posing a serious threat to food security in the subregion”, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization working group. The FAO has called for an urgent 50% reduction in fishing effort for sardinella species