Two Senegalese fishing associations – the Association for the Promotion and Accountability of Actors in Maritime Artisanal Fishing (APRAPAM) and the Senegalese Association of Fishing Companies and Ship Owners (GAIPES) – are calling on their country’s government to deny license applications to 52 industrial Chinese fishing vessels.
The request, which was also highlighted in a press release by the Environmental Justice Foundation, claims that the vessels – which are applying for a number of species, including small pelagics – would have a devastating effect on local species. Some small pelagic species in Senegal are considered overexploited by the FAO’s Fishery Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic (CECAF).
“The situation of coastal pelagics, especially sardinella, is extremely worrying,” APRAPAM wrote. “Senegal is forced to negotiate with its neighbors to get sardinellas there. In these conditions, how can we imagine increasing the pressure on the few resources that remain and which are the food safety net of our populations?”
Overexploitation of the local population to the point of collapse would have dire effects on the population of Senegal, according to EJF.
“Small pelagic fish are a main catch for small-scale fishers and a staple food across West Africa. In Senegal, 75 percent of animal protein comes from fish,” EJF wrote. “If stocks such as small pelagics collapse, the food security of a whole region would be in jeopardy.”
EJF conducted an investigation of the 52 vessels, and while it could not prove that the vessels are of Chinese origin, it also conducted a separate study in Ghana that showed 90 percent of the trawler fleet there, despite being Ghanian “on paper,” are linked to Chinese ownership despite a foreign-ownership ban in the country.
“The situation is similar in Senegal. A foreign vessel would need to adopt the Senegalese flag to operate in Senegal, unless there is a specific partnership agreement in place with its home country,” EJF wrote. “In order to register, the vessel owners must have a presence in the country through the creation of a joint venture with a local partner.”
According to GAIPES, Senegal has faced similar outside pressures in the past from foreign countries and did little to stop the exploitation of local resources. In a letter to Senegal's director of fisheries, the association pointed out that Korean vessels came in droves to fish octopus in Senegalese waters in 1999. The vessels were able to “quickly become Senegalese,” and fished heavily, leaving the region after the resource had been overdrawn.
“None, I say, not one of these boats, remained in Senegal,” the GAIPES letter said. “Some of these boats were found, arrested in the Falkland Islands for illegal fishing. If we are not careful, our national flag will become a flag of convenience.”
According to GAIPES, the license applications as much as reveal that many of the “Senegalese” companies are actually shell companies for foreign interests.
“How can a company like AMINE GROUPE with a capital of XAF 100,000 [USD 165.11, EUR 152.45] acquire six new or almost new trawlers worth XAF 5 billion [USD 8.2 million, EUR 7.6 million]?” the GAIPES letter questioned.
EJF Director Steve Trent said that while registering foreign-owned vessels on its own isn’t problematic, the elaborate shell-game companies use to hide true ownership can be.
“The practice of registering foreign-owned vessels is not problematic per se. Rather, it is the extent to which fictitious corporate structures are used to facilitate secrecy, IUU fishing and other fisheries crimes,” Trent said. “If the true owners are unknown, they are therefore protected and can profit from illegal practices with low risk of detection. Failing to hold true owners to account prevents the dismantling of networks behind illegal fishing operations. It would be a grave error for Senegal to open its registry so that is becomes a safe haven for those seeking to profit from illegal fishing.”
Photo courtesy of the Environmental Justice Foundation