The new government of Senegal has cancelled the licences of 29 foreign fishing trawlers, demanding that they offload their catches in the capital Dakar before leaving the west African country's territorial waters.
Local, small-scale fishing industries in developing countries face a barrage of inter-connected global drivers that threaten their existence. For example, heavily subsidized EU fleets are currently out-muscling the local fishermen of many west African nations. Fisheries in developing countries are also victims of unscrupulous mobile, marine traders (roving bandits) and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels. Roving bandits take advantage of slack trade local and international rules and sequentially harvest from unprotected marine resources in order to feed growing market demands fro marine resources (e.g. sea urchins for the Asian sushi market). Once a local fishery has collapsed, these roving bandits quickly move to the next, adjacent fishery and exploit it. The result is a sequential depletion of local fish stocks that literally pushes the boundaries for what is sustainable exploitation. IUU vessels are another great threat to local fisheries in developing countries. These vessels work on the fringes of international law despite various enforcement measures and international pressure on their flag states (the nation states under which these vessels are registered). IUU vessels frequently change their names and flags and regularly dumped catch, log books, computers and other potential evidence if they are captured. Taking action against IUU vessel owners is made even more difficult as ownership is often disguised by complex company structures, often in part registered in tax havens.
Can developing countries themselves take any steps to break out of these situations? The recent developments in Senegal give rise to some hope. There has recently been fears, stemming from statements made by Senegalese fishers themselves, that piracy (as seen in Somalia) might become a response to overfishing in the region by EU-fleets. Following this growing resentment and threats the new Senegalese government has now decided to revoke the licenses of 29 fishing trawlers. Similar moves where taken in 2006, when Senegal cancelled its licencing agreements with the heavily subsidised EU fleet in an attempt to protect its industry from foreign vessels. Back then dozens of giant factory ships registered in Russia, Lithuania, Morocco, Ukraine, Mauritius, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, China, Belize and elsewhere were able to acquire new licences. The move comes in a critical period where Senegal is reviewing its longer term fishing policies. Greenpeace Africa welcomed the decision in an open letter to the Senegalese government.