Figure 2c.6: Marine fish catch for Western Africa, 1972-97
Small pelagic fish-herring, sardines and anchovies- are the most abundant species in the fisheries off the Western African coast and these represented almost half of all catches in 1994 (see Figure 2c.6). Catches have increased on average by 20 per cent per year since the 1950s under the impetus of national fisheries development policies. Total catches of demersal stocks on the Mauritania continental shelf fell by almost twothirds between 1984 and 1992, which could reflect a change in fishing strategy. In Mauritania, Senegal and the Gambia, demersal resources are considered to be fully exploited or overexploited. In Cape Verde waters, the most important resource is tuna, and recent data indicate that fisheries' resources in Cape Verde are not fully exploited. In the west and central Gulf of Guinea, potential shrimp catches have been estimated at 4 700 tonnes, which is above the maximum sustainable yield (FAO 1997).
Since the late 1980s, market forces have driven foreign fleets to fish in these waters, to the detriment of catches by local countries. For example, fishing agreements between African nations and the EU have been poorly negotiated because African governments are in need of the foreign exchange and income capital. Not only have commercial fishery stocks been drastically reduced, but other species such as dolphins, sharks and turtles have also been affected and their numbers are now declining (WWF 2001b).
Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo are party to the UNCLOS which protects national and international fishing rights and exploitation zones. However, additional resources are required to enforce these regulations and to prosecute law-breakers. Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and Senegal have taken additional action to protect their fisheries and Mauritania is banning all fishing except traditional, non-motorized boat fishing by local communities in the Banc d'Arguin National Park. Guinea- Bissau is establishing the Joao Viera/ Poilao National Park in the Bijagos Archipelago, as a refuge for green turtles, dolphins, sharks, rays, and migratory waterbirds. Senegal is also expected to establish marine protected areas in the near future (WWF 2001b). These are in addition to the 25 existing MPAs established to reduce pressures on natural resources from overharvesting, pollution, and modification of the physical characteristics of the coastline. However, enforcement of protection regulations in most MPAs has been limited by lack of resources.