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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 22:34 GMT 23:34 UK
Europe's fleets 'waste Africa's fish'
Tuna on trawler   BBC
A good catch of tuna: But critics say far too many fish are thrown back
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By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
line
Campaigners say European Union (EU) boats are wasting West Africa's rich fishing resources by discarding most of their catch.

They say what is happening proves that developing countries should keep their fish to themselves.

They base their claims on a study of the problems of coastal fishermen in Senegal.

The study, by the Television Trust for the Environment (TVE), is the basis of the first film in the Trust's new Earth Report series, shown on BBC World.

Foreign boats have been fishing in Senegalese waters for more than 20 years, catching huge quantities of shrimp, tuna and now sardines.

 Click here to watch BBC World and its report on fishing off Senegal.

The film, A Fish Too Far, says EU boats were among the first foreign vessels to obtain licences to fish off Senegal.

Nothing gets away

But it says the situation soon became an unsustainable free-for-all, with industrial fishing destroying the country's most valuable resource.

Fish on display   BBC
Africa's fish fill Europe's stomachs
Foreign fishing methods soon began to destroy West Africa's delicate marine ecology.

Brian O'Riordan works with a campaign group, the International Collective in Support of Fish Workers, based in Belgium.

He says: "The ecosystem in tropical waters is very fragile, and very vulnerable to the industrial trawling techniques used by the EU.

"This has been described as being akin to clear-felling in a forest. They're catching everything now, the small fish, the uneconomic fish.

"So out of the catch they make, possibly they keep anything between 10 and 20%. But anything from 80-90% is chucked back in the water dead.

"And very often these are the fish that form the backbone of the artisanal fishery. Not only are the trawlers clear-felling, they're also turning the ecosystem into a kind of waste dump."

Steffan Smidt, director-general for fisheries of the European Commission, denies this.

Feeding the rich

He tells the TVE crew: "We always take resources which are commensurate with the needs of sustainability, and our vessels are subject to rules covering the number and nature of their nets, the mesh sizes, and other technicalities.

"I think overall what we are able to catch is only something like 7% of what you can take within Senegalese waters."

Trawler   AP
European trawlers rule Africa's seas
Another contributor, Helene Bours of Greenpeace International, told TVE of the damage caused by boats sailing under a flag of convenience.

She said: "It means that unknown quantities of fish are being caught in all kinds of African waters and exported to industrialised countries like the EU and Japan.

"The fishing resources are stolen from them, effectively, and not just from the countries, but from the fishing communities who depend on them. If they stop fishing, they die."

TVE says Senegal's experience confirms the findings of a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme.

That concluded that coastal countries which open their waters to foreign fishing fleets lose billions of dollars, far more than they can hope to gain.

Last January the European Commission failed to secure an extension to a fishing rights accord which had allowed European vessels to fish Senegalese waters since 1997.

See also:

02 Jan 02 | Business
Europe loses Senegal fishing rights
01 Aug 01 | Africa
The battle for West Africa's fish
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