But this is changing, too. “The community is disintegrating,” says Azibo, grief-stricken. In fact, now the boats are becoming private. “During eight years of work in Italy, I put aside some money, so I could come home and buy my boat,” says Mouhamed, another fisherman.
Azibo was forced to leave Senegal because of the large foreign fishing vessels, which have delivered a hard blow to traditional fishing. “Some time ago, we could find the good fish in a short period of time,” Azibo says, playing with the net on which we are sitting. “But today we have to go several miles into the sea. It is very risky, and there are less fish. So I left, I could no longer live a dignified life with a fishing income.”
Industrial fishing has caused dramatic changes to environments and economies, as highlighted by Greenpeace’s latest report, pointing to China and, in particular, against CNCF, the China National Fisheries Corporation. The number of large Chinese fishing boats went from 13 in 1985 to more than 600 today. The report denounces the systematic use of illegal fishing methods, unrecorded catches, and the use of trawling nets that are devastating the diversity and abundance of marine fauna.
“The amazing thing is the constant use of two weights, two metrics when it comes to Africa,” says Ahmed Diamé, a Greenpeace activist in Senegal. “Europe and China are limiting fishing practices that damage the environment in their territorial waters, but, in Africa, they continue to use them widely.”
The report denounces 183 documented cases of improper practices in Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone, carried out by Chinese vessels during the periods of 2000-2006 and 2011-2013. But no governments protested because China is a vital investor in scores of infrastructure projects. Including here in Senegal.
In 2015, Senegal signed with Europe a five-year “sustainable” fisheries agreement. According to the institutional website of the European Commission, it would seem the agreement was blessed by environmentalists, fauna protectors and local fishermen. But the story is more complex: The first agreement came into force from 1979 to 2006. Until the 1990s, there was fish for everyone. Then, around the year 2000, local fishermen began to notice that in order to find a good catch, they had to travel up to 40 kilometers, at significant cost. The European fishing vessels were beginning to destroy the Senegalese seas.
In Senegal, the fisheries sector employs 600,000 people; across all of Europe, it employs only 139,000. Therefore, it is a crucial sector for the country’s economy. So, in 2006, the government suspended fishing concessions and started new negotiations with Europe. Since January 2015, an agreement has entered into force, which will bring €14 million into the Senegalese treasury. There is a ceiling of tons of tuna and cod that can be caught, together with a program of investments in oceanographic research in Senegal.