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Poverty Times #1

Rough seas for Mauritania's fish

There is an acute need for safeguards before foreign fleets are allowed into developing countries waters. UNEP has found that these countries which open up their waters to foreign fishing fleets may lose more than they gain.By Anja Jaenz

A UNEP case study on Mauritania revealed that trade liberalization led to increased octopus and shrimp exports to European and Japanese markets. The fishing sector accounted
for around 54 percent of foreign exchange inflows. But increased trade and over-fishing have depleted octopus and serranid stocks, which have significantly fallen in 15 years, and sawfish have disappeared. Local direct employment in the artisanal octopus fishery dropped from nearly 5,000 to 1,800 between 1996 and 2001.

The study shows that international fishing agreements is one of the primary causes. For instance in the shrimps fishery, these agreements have given foreign fleets the possibility of
using more productive equipment (smaller mesh size) and have created competitive pressures on Mauritanian producers. The study concludes that strict safeguards must be in place before fishing activities are increased. There is an acute need for tighter controls on subsidies and agreements that provide access to foreign fleets as well as for closer monitoring and enforcement of existing regulations.

Other UNEP country studies, including Senegal and Argentina, also indicate that the eventual costs, in terms of loss of income for local fishermen, environmental damage and the depletion of native fish stocks, can far outweigh the short term financial gains generated from foreign governments and fleets.

Anja Jaenz
UNEP, Geneva

1. Effets environnementaux de la libéralisation du commerce et des measures liées au commerce dans le secteur de la pêche en République Islamique de Mauritanie, Draft, UNEP, February 2002.

2. Well Managed Fisheries Vital for Environmentally Friendly Development in Poor Parts of the Globe, UNEP, Press Release 15 March 2002.