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close this bookCERES No. 070 - July - August 1979 (FAO Ceres, 1979, 50 p.)
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View the documentThe new ocean regime : Winners and losers
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View the documentManaging our own
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Managing our own

In West Africa, the adoption of EEZs has unmasked new potentialities and problems

by Marie - Cristine Comte

With the changing Law of the Sea and the effective application of the exclusive economic zones, fisheries have taken on new meaning for coastal and non-coastal countries. For some developing coastal countries in particular, these policies have opened up new opportunities as well as new difficulties. Aware that fish resources are an important source of protein, of foreign exchange and of employment, developing countries are trying to gain greater control and benefits from their resources. To do so, they have various options. One is- to develop their fisheries with the help of foreign means, through joint ventures, licensing agreements and the like. Another way - developing with their own means - is a slower process and requires more collaboration among coastal states. The difficulties come from the developing countries' general lack of knowledge, and the scarcity of technical means and of cadres in the fishery sector.

One area where the changing Law of the Sea has had a particular impact is the Eastern Central Atlantic, which covers the waters off the western coast of Africa from the Congo river to the Straits of Gibraltar. The coastal countries of that region vary greatly in area, population and resources, but are generally characterized by poverty and low living standards.

One significant feature of the region is the great difference between population distribution and fish resources. Seventy-five percent of the total population live along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea in the southern sector, which has only 25 percent of the total fish resources of the region. On the other hand, the northern sector has 75 percent of the total fish resources with only 25 percent of the total population. In 1974, about 650 000 tons of fish were caught in the southern sector, while 2.6 million tons were caught in the northern area.'

Not landed at coastal ports

Another important fact is that many foreign vessels operate in the waters of the region. About 2 million tons of the present approximate total catch of 3.5 million tons are caught by foreign vessels and thus not landed at coastal ports prior to shipment to other markets. By far the greatest part of this catch is taken by the USSR, followed by Spain, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Japan and France.

However, the new policies are giving rise to various forms of licensing agreements with foreign interests, linked with requirements of greater landings in coastal ports and the creation of locally based processing industries.

Ghana and Senegal are two of the leading fishing countries of West Africa, and the greatest part of their marine production comes from artisanal fisheries, usually done by teams of five to 20 persons with canoes using ring nets or, more recently, purse seines. There are approximately 15 000 such canoes in the two countries, 85 percent of which are motorized, and these land 55 percent of the catch, mostly sardinellas and anchovies, mackerel and sea bream.

Other fishing gear used in collective artisanal fisheries include single lines with one or more hooks, beach seines, which can measure up to 1 km in length, and gill or set nets. The purse seine was introduced by FAO in 1969. It was not really adopted until 1972, but it has certainly revolutionized fishing as one seine can bring in more than a ton of fish.

To bring in another load

The Ghanaians and Senegalese are by tradition excellent fishermen. Their fishing techniques and various forms of their canoes can be found all over West Africa. They are also consumers of fish. In fact, per caput consumption for both countries is one of the highest in Africa, and most of the catch landed by artisanal fisheries is used locally. Fish is either sold fresh or processed according to various traditional methods, which include smoking, drying and salting. In Ghana, fish is smoked for anything from a few hours to a couple of days, after which it can be trucked to the interior of the country and preserved for a few months. In Senegal, which is less humid than Ghana, the fish is first braised between layers of straw and then sun-dried for a few days. Part of the catch is also now frozen or processed into fish meal for export.

In Djifer, 160 km south of Dakar, containers of fish pile up quickly on the small wooden quay. Canoes come in fast, one after the other, and the Senegalese, up to their knees in fish and bloody water, pass containers from the boats to the pier, assembly line fashion. Hand-pushed carts are filled and taken to the covered hangar, where the sardinellas are hand selected, washed and set in trays for freezing. Some canoe captains ask that their fish be unloaded with the newly installed suction pump so that they can return rapidly to their canoes to bring in another load. After all the canoes are in, the machines to convert the growing mountain of fish into fish meal are started and continue far into the night.

The Senegalo-French Societedes pecheries du Sine-Saloum (Sopesine) was started in 1975 to provide an outlet for the fishermen of the area. It processed 19 000 tons of fish in 1977 and has a capacity of 45 000 tons. Sopesine pays 8 CFA francs (US$1=208 CFA) for 1 kg of fish for fish meal, 10-12 francs for freezing and 40 francs for so-called noble fish. It employs 75 permanent workers and 300 day labourers a month during the high season, the sorters being paid 125 francs per hour. The frozen fish is exported to other African countries, mainly the Ivory Coast, and the fish meal is sold to Europe according to world market prices. However, 200 kg of fish are needed to produce 20 kg of fish meal and, as a Sopesine employee said, "If we used these amounts of straight fish, we could feed the entire continent of Africa."

A good part of Sopesine's raw material is landed by itinerant fishermen. These are the ones who follow the movements of the fish, and over the year they can travel from Saint-Louis north of Dakar on the Grande Cote all the way down to Djifer in the Saloum and sometimes even to the Gambia. Others, who specialize in sea bream, blue fish and groupers, fish between Saint-Louis and Kayar on the Grande Cote.

Two years to pay off

Caye Faly and his three brothers own a canoe with an 8-hp outboard. They live in Saint-Louis but come to Kayar for the season, which lasts from January to April. The beach is packed with canoes, men milling around, women selling fish. Behind, small huts for the fishermen and their families are squashed against one another. More canoes land every few minutes. On a good day, the Faly brothers can bring back some 60 good-sized fish, which will be sold at 1500 francs per fish, but, counting wives and children, there are about 10 persons living on these proceeds. With the price of petrol and general expenses, it will take two years to pay off the canoe. Faly is 30 years old and has been fishing for 10 years. He says, "Fishing is too hard. You come back late, at three, at four in the morning; you leave again at six. We make about 100 000 francs a year, but it's not enough. Life is expensive here."

In general, when fishing is not a family affair but an association of various fishermen, the proceeds are allocated as follows: each man, each canoe and each motor are given one part; a gillnet also represents a part, but one third of the profits will go to the owner of a purse seine.

The Ghanaian modern fisheries sector has made great strides during the past 20 years; some will even say that it has developed too fast and too far in relation to the resources available. The inshore commercial fishery (15-20 km from the coast) uses small locally built trawlers for demersal fish, mainly tigerfish, ice-carrying steel trawlers for sea bream and red mullet, and purse seiners for sardines and mackerel. The distant-water fleet consists of refrigerated stern trawlers, purse seiners and tuna bait boats.

Most of these boats are based in Tema, east of Accra, the only port available for large vessels at present, although there are plans for new harbours along the coast. Tema is well equipped for boat building and repairs, and also provides cold storage, icemaking and processing plants, as well as an auction market for fresh fish landed by canoes at the canoe basin. However, ice production is not sufficient to meet the demand and, because of technical problems, the plants are not working at full capacity.

A man of the desert

Mankoadze Fisheries Ltd is a big fishing complex, which owns some 24 vessels and landed 20 000 tons of fish, including tuna, in 1976. It established the Pioneer Food Cannery jointly with the Starkist Co. in 1973 to produce 20 000 tins of mackerel and herring a day, but it has now been converted into a tuna canning factory. Pioneer employs 200 workers, 85 percent of whom are women. Everything is done by hand except for precooking and the sealing of tins. But again, the plant rarely operates at full capacity.

Contrary to Ghana and Senegal, Mauritania is not a fishing country nor a fish consumer. The Mauritanian has always turned his back on the sea and is by definition a man of the desert. However, there are about 250 Senegalese and some Ghanaian and Beninese fishermen who operate 80 motorized canoes based in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou and who supply these two centres with fresh and smoked fish.

At Msid, 70 km north of Nouakchott along the coast, a few decrepit huts face the sea. Large metal drums of soft water lean against the huts, some goats are tethered behind, hens scratch around in the sand. Behind the beach, the desert shimmers away as far as the eye can see. Salted fish, covered with flies, has been put out to dry on the roofs of the huts; inside are trays for the drying of yellow mullet ovaries;

The only way to preserve a fish stock in danger is to limit the total amount of fishing the latter will be sold as poutargue, a high-priced delicacy much appreciated in Europe. This is one of the villages of the Imraguens, the only fishing tribe of Mauritania.

With dolphins

The Imraguens number around 2 000, spread over nine villages along the 600 km of coast between Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. They follow very primitive methods of fishing, using small flat sailboats, cotton nets and taking advantage of the dolphins to bring in the shoals of mullet. Most of their production goes to a marketing company based in Nouadhibou, a trip that may require as much as two to three weeks' sailing time.

The waters off the coast of Mauritania are very rich in fish and are extensively exploited by foreigners, especially by Spaniards, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegians, Russians and French. The Japanese, as well as the South Koreans, deal almost exclusively in cephalopods, which are frozen and sent to the home countries. This has given rise to the building and development of various freezing and processing plants in Nouadhibou, which do not operate at full capacity, partly because a good part of the foreign catch is not landed in Mauritania but in Las Palmas and also because of foreign factory ships doing their own freezing and processing out on the high seas.

A sure threat

The Dutch Interpeche Ltd owns 15 ships and employs some 19 nationalities, only 30 percent of whom are Mauritanians. One of its boats is a factory ship that processes sardinellas into fish meal directly at sea. Interpeche lands only 10-12 percent of its catch in Nouadhibou because, according to an employee, of that port's "lack of capacity." The rest goes to Tenerife.

However, the extension of jurisdiction over large expanses of water (Ghana, Senegal, Mauritania out to 200 miles; Mauritania and Morocco on the coastal waters off the Western Sahara) has represented a sure threat to the foreign fisheries and has tipped the balance of agreements in favour of the coastal countries. Such agreements may take various forms.

Fishing rights agreements are generally concluded for a limited period, often exclude coastal waters to protect small-scale fisheries (Mauritania, USSR), may restrict the number and size of vessels (Senegal-France), and may involve the payment Of fees or require that a certain tonnage be landed in the coastal country (Mauritania Spain). Agreements also may include clauses for financial cooperation to promote the development of the fisheries sector (Senegal, Morocco) or for scientific and technical cooperation. Fishing rights may also be part of larger economic agreements, as in the case of Morocco and the USSR. In Senegal and Morocco, the operation of foreign private companies is contingent on the participation of national capital, and the employment of local crews on vessels has become obligatory.

Agreements between neighboring coastal states with common interests generally include a reciprocity clause but only for a certain stretch of coastal waters or for a certain species. Those without a reciprocity clause depend on the interests involved. In the case of Mauritania and Ghana, for example, the latter undertook to train fisheries technicians and fishermen and to deliver a certain part of its catch to Mauritanian processing plants.

The up welling that enriches Mauritania's waters also feeds the coast of Morocco, and that country has long been a fish exporter. The sardine industry was started by the French in the 1930s and Morocco still exports to Western Europe, although increasing quantities now go to developing countries. There are now some 75 processing plants in the country, 20 fish meal plants, 7 freezing plants and various cold stores in Safi, Agadir and Casablanca. However, the Moroccan sardine industry suffers from various problems: a lack of refrigeration plants, the old age of the processing equipment, the poor quality of landed fish due to poor handling and preserving on board, all of which means that only a part of the catch is processed and canned; in fact, of 204 000 tons landed in 1974, only 75 000 tons were canned. Other constraints come from out-of-date marketing policies and from the fact that the sardine is disappearing from the Moroccan coast; the latter may be due to a long-term natural fluctuation, but nobody is very sure of the explanation. On the deck of the Ibn Sina, moored in Casablanca, men are squatting and repairing fish nets. Mid-water and bottom trawl nets have just been mounted on the stern. Below decks, there are sonar, echo sounders and equipment to estimate the abundance of fish along the vessel's path, as well as other ultrasophisticated instruments to take all environmental measurements. A small laboratory has been installed to make spot biological research. Cold stores have been provided to preserve the fish that will go back to the laboratory of the Institut scientifique des peches maritimes (ISPM), boat will use satellite navigation.

Only one side of the coin

The Ibn Sina, supported by a UNDP/FAO research boat, is an important link in the chain of investigation and research that is the basis for a sound policy of fisheries management. It will verify geographical distribution and movement of stocks, estimate their abundance, try out and adapt new fishing gear, etc. "We must not isolated in Francis Poinsard become researchers laboratories," says .. FAO expert. "On the contrary, we must keep in constant contact with fishermen and the fishing industry. In fact, the ideal would be to get the industry interested enough in our work so that it partly subsidizes this type of research. ISPM could become the liaison between government and industry." But long-term pure biological research also plays a part, although Poinsard believes that it should be subcontracted to scientists and not necessarily done by ISPM researchers.

Another link in the chain is provided by four oceanographic research stations based in Agadir, Essaouira, Safi and Tangiers, all under the umbrella of ISPM. There is also the

The laboratory and aquarium being built by the USSR near Nouadhibou, the Centre de recherches ocographiques in Dakar, the Fishery Research Unit in Tema, as well as other centres in the region.

However, oceanographic and biological research is only one side of the coin. The other side is catch statistics, as it is impossible to evaluate how much fish stocks can produce without knowing how much is landed. Until recently, statistics have been very scarce because no administration has really bothered with them and also because it is hard to get data from some of the foreign vessels fishing in the region.

The Fishery Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic (CECAF) was created by FAO in 1967 at the request of the West African states. Its membership includes 20 coastal countries and 10 non-coastal nations with direct interests in the fisheries of the region. The CECAF Project, whose main purpose is to assist the developing countries in increasing their participation and in managing their fisheries, is funded by UNDP and executed by FAO. One of its first and continuing tasks has been to harmonize fishery statistics and provide technical guidance to states in their evaluation of fish stocks.

Hard to come by

To that end, a system of forms on catches and landings has been implemented in the region, and statisticians from the Project regularly visit factories and boats. Results have been mixed. For example, the Spaniards and others who land their catch in Las Palmas have given full cooperation to the operation. Ahmed Ould Die, Governor of Nouadhibou, makes it a prerequisite that foreign vessels accept the statisticians' visits. Some, according to Mohamed Azzou, Director of ISPM, "do not play the game by the rules."

Data from factory ships operating on the high seas and never landing on the coast are hard to come by. Others, like the USSR, who fish in these waters are not even members of CECAF, and do not see any reason to provide statistics.

It is a long process. Statistics must first be gathered from all the various sources and then collated and evaluated. However, certain conclusions have already been drawn by CECAF on the basis of available data.

Hake stocks are declining off the coasts of Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal. Shrimp are heavily exploited while cephalopods are definitely over exploited. Pelagic stocks of the northern sector are intensely exploited but probably not excessively yet. The trumpet fish, found off the Moroccan coast, could stand increased exploitation, at least as a source of fish meal.

The only way to preserve a fish stock in danger is to limit the total amount of fishing, either by limiting the net mesh size, by forbidding exploitation of that species during certain periods of the year so that adult fish have a chance to breed or for a longer period so that the stock can recuperate; or the fishery will collapse, as has happened in Ghana with the round sardinella in 1973. CECAF has made various recommendations to safeguard fish stocks, as it did in early 1976 for cephalopods. But CECAF is a committee, not a commission, and has not been endowed with the legal powers to enforce regulations.

Great delays

It remains up to individual countries to take special measures to protect their own fish stocks. However, it is difficult to enforce measures without adequate means, especially in the case of distant-water fleets. Also, fish do migrate and may be found in the territorial waters of various countries at different times of the year. Reciprocity agreements in this instance would be beneficial to the countries involved. But the interested parties do not yet seem to show any more enthusiasm for cooperation than countries in any other region of the world. It must also be said that the fisherman is primarily interested in making as much money as he can as quickly as he can, and does not really think about the future and the possible disappearance of a stock.

Another constraint on the CECAF Project is the fact that CECAF members do not contribute financially to it. It is a well-known fact that a lack of financial interest generally implies a lack of interest.

However, there is no doubt that the countries of the region are showing a growing awareness of the problems and constraints, and of the necessity for sound fisheries management policies. Mauritanian policy-makers, for instance, have moved from granting licences to requesting joint ventures, partly as a means of controlling foreign fisheries and catches, but also as a way of receiving training and technical assistance.

In Morocco, the importance of the fisheries sector to the economy has been understood at government level. The trend is now to stop heavy investments in industrial fisheries, while helping the small fishermen, and to put more emphasis on the protection of stocks, their reasonable exploitation and on marketing. However, there is no ministry of fisheries in Morocco. The Office national des peches is responsible to the Prime Minister, while the Merchant Marine covers social affairs, and the Office du commerce exterieur takes care of marketing. Obviously, all this means a lack of coordination and creates great delays in decision-making. "All the people involved are very sensitive to the problem," says Azzou, "and, personally, I am sure that we will have our own ministry very soon."

There is also a growing demand for training in all disciplines and for technical assistance. Here, non-coastal countries are playing an important role. Canada in particular has helped with canoe motorization in Ghana and Senegal, and is planning a fisheries school in Agadir for the training of mechanics. Other countries giving technical assistance not tied to fishing rights are Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Kuwait.

The power to legislate

Finally, there is general agreement on the importance of CECAF's contribution. With its papers, training seminars, surveys and recommendations, CECAF plays a great role in stimulating the awareness of the region as a whole. Some people would even like to see CECAF take on a bigger role, and they hope that the committee will eventually be given the power necessary to legislate and enforce regulations. But for that, it would have to become an international organization at government level, and that is a question of political will in the countries concerned. "If all governments took cognizance of all the facts," says Eric Kwei of Starkist, "they would not be forced to act as they do."

It is in everybody's interest, coastal and non-coastal countries alike - as well as the rest of the world - to cooperate in the management of fisheries and fish stocks. But it will take a long time. As George Everett, CECAF Project Manager, says, "European fishery laboratories have been slogging away for 50 or more years on these things. And it is only now that we can see some results. With luck, we might see some cooperation in this area in the next five or ten years."