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Senegal's fishermen defend themselves against looting by foreign fishing vessels—we help!


The Fisheries Minister of the West African Republic of Senegal planned to issue 56 new fishing licences for Chinese trawlers. (1) This would be a sell-out of fish stocks which are already dangerously over-exploited. The domestic fishing industry countered this with a nationwide campaign. With success, as was announced on 9 June 2020: The Minister of Fisheries rejected all licence applications (2). An important step, but some local fishermen doubt that their country's fisheries policy will now change for the better without further pressure.
Previously, Senegalese fishermen had addressed an open letter to the President of the Republic asking him to stop the granting of licences (3 ). As part of this campaign, local fishermen and journalists are working on a video documentation of the problem in order to distribute it through channels at home and abroad. fair-fish international supports this work financially and helps to network the campaign with media and organisations.
Fish stocks already severely overexploited
Dozens of foreign fishing vessels are already making use of Senegal’s fish stocks, including 38 from Europe alone (4), along with trawlers from Asian countries and Russia. The campaign of the Senegalese fishermen is not only directed against the new licences for Chinese trawlers, but also against the disorderly allocation to foreign fishing vessels in general––also to those who operate under the Senegalese flag with the help of questionable legal tricks.

Tens of thousands of local small-scale fishermen, but also the small local industrial fishing fleet, are increasingly running out of fish, and so the raw material for the artisanal fish processors and for the workers in the local fish factories is also becoming increasingly scarce. Fish is traditionally one of Senegal's most important products and has provided work and income for hundreds of thousands. If the fishermen return more and more often without fish, the only option left for them is to migrate to Europe to feed their families. (5)

Based on long-standing local contacts (6) fair-fish international has decided to support the campaign of the Senegalese fishermen and especially the production and distribution of a video documentation in Senegal, in Europe and worldwide.

In 2012, the recently elected new government had terminated all licences for foreign trawlers for deep-sea fishing, especially Russian vessels. The corrupt previous government had distributed the licences "just like that", and the money collected for this purpose disappeared somewhere, presumably in the Paris bank accounts of some ministers. (7)

The situation of the local fishing industry will be made even more difficult from 2021 onwards by the exploitation of oil and gas deposits off the coast of one of the most important fishing areas in the north of the country, near Saint-Louis. Here, too, the Republic is selling off raw materials to foreign companies; the local population will once again see only the disadvantages of this.

A combative fisheries and civil society

The Senegalese fishing industry, together with civil society, had already stood up to the government once before: In 2006, they broke the negotiations on the continuation of the old fisheries agreement with the EU when the latter refused to meet the demands of local fishermen (8). The "Fisheries Partnership Agreement" between the EU and Senegal, signed in 2014, provides for a few improvements and, in particular, states to only use resources left over by local actors (2). In doing so, the EU has to some extent responded to the demands of local fishermen. However, only a small proportion of industrial fishing in Senegalese waters is carried out by European vessels; the lion's share is taken by Asian trawlers—under much more ruthless conditions.

It is not impossible that the Senegalese fishermen will once again prevail. On 11 May 2020 they published a joint open letter to the President of the Republic, Macky Sall (3). After the fishermen's demands had become so unmistakable that the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Fisheries tried to play off the various local players in the fisheries sector against each other, the letter called on the President to focus the debate on the real problems, namely the dwindling fish stocks and the question of who is allowed to use them. On May 20, at the meeting of the Council of Ministers, the President instructed the relevant fisheries authorities to resolve the issues raised in accordance with the law and in dialogue with the parties concerned (9).
A clear pointer to Alioune Ndoye, who was only appointed Fisheries Minister in November 2019 and who took up a difficult legacy left by his predecessors who had held this office in rapid succession. On 4 June, after some reshuffling of senior officials in the Ministry, the Minister for Fisheries informed all applicants that their request for a fishing licence would not be granted (2 ). A bang that nobody had expected to hear so loudly! However, many in the Senegalese fishing industry doubt that this will finally make their country's fisheries policy transparent and sustainable. In fact, there are many reasons to remain vigilant and also to review previous licence allocations.  So the fishermen's campaign continues.


Conservation of fish stocks through return to artisanal fishing

Abundance was the normal state of Senegalese fish stocks 60 years ago. Restoring this state would give Senegal a boost for sustainable development. To achieve this, it would be required to halve the fishing pressure over a period of four years or more, depending on the reproductive capacity of the fish species. Once stocks have been restored, it would be possible to increase fishing yields even beyond today's volume, and with less effort, provided that the rules of sustainable fishing are respected. It is obvious that foreign industrial fishing must be excluded. It is even more obvious that artisanal fishing creates 25 times more jobs and at the same time has less impact on stocks and the marine environment.

One would wish for the Senegalese people to see a strategy developed that restores fish stocks and supports artisanal fishing, from pirogues to fishwomen, from local to national structures in processing, cold storage, trade and––in the event of a surplus––export. These are questions which are now being raised again in the context of the negotiations (10 ) for the renewal of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the EU and Senegal.

Billo Heinzpeter Studer
(updated 14.06.2020)


(1) Le Quotidien et Enquête plus

(2) La désicion du Ministre des Pêches

(3) Lettre ouverte au Président de la République du Sénégal

(4) Fisheries Partnership Agreement EU-Senegal

(5) Kampagne Überfischung macht Migration

(6) fair-fish-Projekt im Senegal

(7) Als der Senegal einst Fanglizenzen entzog

(8) Als das Abkommen EU-Senegal scheiterte

(9) Rapport du Conseil des Ministres du 20 mai 2020

(10) Renégociation de l’Accord de Partenariat de Pêche durable UE–Sénégal




Our video from Senegal, produced together with the local people, shows the seriousness of the situation.

fair-fish international was able to support the campaign of the Senegalese fishermen with 13.500 Euros thanks to donations.

Further donations are very welcome.
Please do not forget to mention "Senegal" when transferring the money.

Jëre-jëf, as they say in Senegal: Many thanks!


Appropriate to the topic:

How China's fishermen are impoverishing Africa

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