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EU signs biggest ever fisheries deal with African nation


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12.30pm Monday July 24, 2006

By Stephen Castle



BRUSSELS - The EU has signed its biggest ever fisheries deal with an African nation, sparking a debate on whether Third World oceans should be exploited now that many European fish stocks have collapsed.


In what is seen as a test case for agreements on sustainable fishing, the accord will allow around 200 European vessels to fish for shrimps, hake, tuna and other species the waters off the Mauritanian coast.


The deal is worth a total of €516m ($1,049,662) to the Mauritanian government over six years and the European Commission says that the "great part" of the cash will be devoted to supporting "responsible and sustainable fisheries" off the African coast.


Joe Borg, European Fisheries Commissioner, described the development as a "major breakthrough" and stressed the mutual benefit in terms of "jobs, strengthened monitoring and control, conservations of resources in compliance with scientific assessment and environmental protection".


But conservationists are concerned that the accord is based on incomplete knowledge of the state of fish stocks and could precipitate the devastation of some species.


The agreement replaces an existing, €86m-a-year accord with Mauritania, just five per cent of which goes to fund sustainable fisheries projects.


The new deal scales back fishing of some depleted stocks including cephalopods, which include octopus and squid, and demersal species, which dwell on or near the sea floor.


Fishing for cephalopods - for which the EU currently has the right to fish with 55 vessels - will be reduced by 30 per cent, while the catch for demersal species will be slashed about 60 per cent.


Of the €86m the EU will pay Mauritania annually for six years, €10m will go to upgrading ports, modernising Mauritanian fishing fleets, strengthening scientific monitoring of stocks, tightening controls and improving standards of safety at sea.


In addition, licence fees from European fishermen may add another €22m a year for Mauritania, a country of more than 3 million people. That will represent almost one-third of Mauritania's national income.


Vessels from more than a dozen nations, including Britain, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland and Italy, are expected to fish in Mauritanian waters.


But campaigners say that they are worried about several elements of this, and the other 13, bilateral fisheries agreements currently in force.


These often lucrative deals present a dilemma for West African governments.


They have to balance their desperate need for foreign-exchange earnings with the need to safeguard stocks to help feed their own population and provide rare economic opportunities for many communities.


Saskia Richartz, Greenpeace EU marine policy advisor, said: "The EU has revised its guidelines for a new generation of fisheries agreements and there are some improvements, however the key problems are still there.


"Going into new regions is a result of over-capacity of our fleets and unsustainable fishing of our own fish stocks. Consequently, we have to go further afield to fish."


African stocks already under pressure


Greenpeace is worried that African stocks are already under growing pressure both from indigenous fishermen and from illegal fishing by European, Chinese, Russian and Korean vessels.


They point to research that shows that Somalia may be losing $480m in annual revenue, and Guinea $160m, from undeclared fishing.


These catches are not factored into the scientific calculations and could therefore mean that stocks are more at risk than suspected.


"We are concerned that these agreements are regulated on incomplete knowledge of the situation because of illegal fishing," Ms Richartz said.


There are also doubts about the administrative capacity of West African countries to monitor the situation.


And campaigners say that it is vital that European catches are reduced as the Mauritanian fleet develops its capacity.


The new deal will come into force at the beginning of next month pending formal agreement by the EU member states.


As part of the agreement a joint scientific committee will be established to monitor the state of fish stocks in Mauritanian waters.


It will meet at least once a year.


But many conservationists believe they are fighting a losing battle because of the growing demand for fish and the vast improvements in efficiency of modern industrial trawlers.


These ships can stay at sea for weeks and even months and even less sophisticated African vessels manage 15 days, equipped with iceboxes and with enough room for up to 15 crewmen.

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