Encouraging news emerged last week for West African fisheries as the new government of Senegal announced it has cancelled all deals with foreign fishing companies. All foreign-owned trawlers are to unload their final catch and leave for good.
The problem of industrial trawling along the West African coast has been getting more attention in the news lately (e.g. check out John Vidal’s coverage for the Guardian). The stats are truly horrifying: a single foreign-owned trawler can take in one day the amount of fish caught by 50 artisanal fishermen in one year.
What’s worrying is not just the impact on fish stocks, but also the physical impact of trawlers on artisanal fishing gear.
All along the coast, fishermen have been telling me how the large trawlers will switch off their lights at night and sneak into near shore areas – areas they are not licensed to operate in, but they know this is where large numbers of fish can be caught. They turn their lights off so they can’t be identified and reported. And as the trawlers come inshore, they damage and tear away the local fishermen’s nets: costly gear that’s not easy to replace.
Senegal’s decision has to be good news. True, they cancelled licences back in 2006 then promptly reissued them, but hopefully this time will be different. And perhaps – just perhaps – Senegal will set an example for the rest of the region.
Back at the start of the year, as I was planning my trip to West Africa, the troubles brewing over the Senegalese election had me worried that I wouldn’t be able to visit the country at all. Early signs were that the incumbent president did not want to leave, as he changed the constitution so he could stand for a third term, and riots ensued. But as it turns out, the elections were fair and the outcome – so far – has been a good one.
Today I’m on my way to Senegal and I’m excited to see what I find there for myself.