I will meet all those people again, my colleagues, friends, and enemies.
I take the role of a scientific director for a workshop again, this time not to teach, but to listen, refocus, direct, and get a strategic plan together.
I had major apprehensions, as people can either be very motivated, biased, or completely inert.
I had a combination of both motivation and bias.
“Stocks collapsed despite the fact that no fishing licences were granted” says a colleague from Mauritania.
Obviously, my demonstration of the number of Chinese incursions shown by satellite into the Mauritanian EEZ did not suffice to convince him that beyond the “legal”, illegal fishing could also have an impact on fish stocks.
In fact, we have estimated in a paper we produced recently that over $2 billion US were lost to illegal fishing in the sub-region of West Africa every year. This value is taken by vessels that have never received a fishing licence where they caught the fish from at that moment in time.
“We need to fund the Nansen to do stock assessments”
However, the Nansen is an independent body, whose mission is not stock assessment, and whose data remains fairly opaque for publication.
My apprehensions were justified, but I felt that although we had intense moments, we could finally agree on a set of results, activities, and partners.
The Status of Fishermen
The issue I had remained with regards to the status of fishermen in Senegal (for example), were they are literally given the title of “informants” as they give information on their fellows who fish illegally, but without the legal status or protection.
One intense conversation came out when we discussed this topic.
A government fellow from Guinea, the same one who said “there is no corruption in my country”, told the two participating fishermen we had in our group that it was basically their duty to monitor the waters, because these provide their source of livelihood, and so they did not need to be rewarded for that.
“I am proud of being a fisherman”
The fishermen argued that he did not want to be paid: “I am proud of being a fisherman”
However, he wanted a status that protected him against retaliation.
I quite frankly argued that if the government did their job in monitoring the waters then fishermen would not have to take risks. A government official from Senegal agreed with me.
In fact, Monitoring Control and Surveillance is not necessarily effective. According to a paper we published recently, only $13 million are recovered through MCS every year. The number of sanctioned vessels increased, but is it because of improving MCS, or because illegal activity increased proportionally or both?
Let’s just say it is a combination of both. Countries such as Senegal and Guinea have improved their fines and sanctions and amended their fisheries Act, to a level that even Canada cannot catch up with.
Sierra Leone sanctions vessels for infractions including shutting down AIS, so you would expect less authorized vessels to go fishing in artisanal areas, because they cannot hide anymore, but more vessels shutting down their AIS to enter the EEZ, just because they will never get detected.
I presented all this information at the workshop, and strongly advocated for newly developed tools such as Global Fishing Watch.
I believe in transparency bringing change, I believe in the strength of these countries in that they do have political will to change things, maybe not at the right place yet, and maybe sometimes bureaucracy does not help, but the situation is improving, and with more information available and capacity built, we are going forward to the right direction.
I also support community stewardship, and surveillance programs, however these need to be engrained in cultures and in paper, to give some insurance of security to fishermen who risk their lives everyday not only to earn a living but also to ensure that future generations do, as well.
Fortunately my trip ended with much more motivation that when it started. I ended my journey with a visit, for the first time in seven years, to Gorée Island, one of the past slave trade hubs of the region. Fortunately that dark era ended and all you can see is a beautiful island, nice people, and a lot of beautiful art.