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The BBC's James Westhead
"Europe's insatiable appetite is to blame"
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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
West African fishing under threat
Fishermen in wooden canoe
Traditional canoes are no match for the trawlers
By James Westhead

Fishing is a way of life unchanged in Africa for hundreds, possibly thousands of years, with fishermen dragging their traditional wooden canoes onto the beach to unload their catch.

But now that way of life is under threat from Europe.

Fisherman Papa Khan
Papa Khan lost his brother and his crew
Once the fish were plentiful, but since foreign trawlers arrived, fishermen have been reduced to fighting over their meagre catch.

Gambian fisherman Papa Khan's small boat was smashed in two one night by an illegal trawler, killing 10 of his crew, including his brother.

"When the trawlers are stealing our fish they turn off their lights," he says. "We didn't see it until it was so close. We couldn't avoid it.

"I was so terrified. I just had to try and save myself.

"The rest of my crew drowned."

Air patrols

The village chief, Sako Uji, lost his boat, his brother and his son in a similar accident. He says poaching by illegal trawlers has cut their catch to less than a quarter. Soon there will not be enough to live on.

Fish in buckets
There is less fish to go round these days
"We Africans say 'no fish means famine'," he says. "When we don't catch fish it means we have no money.

"The situation is becoming very difficult for the people of Gunju."

Light aircraft are Africa's only weapons against poaching on an industrial scale. They patrol the sea, photographing boats fishing too close to the coast.

The huge trawlers come from Europe and Japan where stocks are already exhausted. The fish they catch are destined for supermarket shelves.


The surveillance operation has spotted 700 illegal boats so far this year, but manager David Graham says lack of resources means they have no way of prosecuting the trawlers.

"Those who are fishing illegally are certainly getting away with it," he says. "We have evidence against them but it's not been possible to get the prosecutions we might have."

Experts like Austin Jones, the fisheries co-ordinator for West Africa predict that within 10 years there will be no fish left worth fishing. Although Europe's insatiable appetite is to blame, it is doing little to help despite repeated requests.

"What we're trying to fight is more powerful nations coming over here and destroying, for some states, the only natural resources that they have got," says Mr Jones.

It is not just the traditional way of life at stake, as local fishermen are forced ever further out to sea for an ever smaller catch. Soon the balance of an entire economy could be destroyed leaving a generation unemployed and hungry.

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See also:

13 Jun 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Gambia's future hopes
20 May 00 | Africa
Collision at sea off Freetown
17 Dec 99 | Europe
EU fish quota slashed
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