SEATTLE — For centuries, communities across Western Africa have depended on fishing as a source of food and income. Due to overfishing by foreign entities, local fish sources have been dwindling rapidly, leaving native peoples vulnerable to food and employment insecurity. The marine environment forms the basis of food security and livelihoods for about 400 million people in western and central African countries with a marine coastline.
Overfishing is the phenomenon when more fish are caught than the population can replace through natural reproduction
; it occurs due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. In West Africa specifically, this diminishment is attributed to an increased presence of foreign commercial fishing vessels, and an increased foreign demand for fish-based products such as oil and farm feed. Economically, their presence costs Western African economies $2.3 billion a year and is a detriment to private and national income
Fishing in this region contributes significantly to the macroeconomic improvement of the nations and the microeconomic level as it creates a diversity of jobs and generates income for local economies
. But the stability that fishing creates for the nations and peoples of West Africa is threatened by the presence of large, foreign fleets and the depletion of fishing stocks.
The decreased amount of fish exacerbates the poverty in this region and forces the local fishermen to resort to unsustainable tactics to meet their economic needs. As there are few alternatives to rectify this issue, states are conflicted between meeting the needs of their people and preserving their natural resources; unfortunately, maintaining either has become virtually impossible, with the extreme environmental degradation.
Threats of Extinction
Environmentally, in marine waters from Mauritania to Angola, 37 species of bony fish are threatened with extinction and 14 species are near-threatened, all of which are imperative and staple sources of food. In conjunction with lower numbers due to the slowed natural re-population of a species, the slowed rebound reduces the gene-pool and reduces the ability to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Furthermore, the increased presence of boats searching for a fewer amount of fish has turned both local and foreign boats to more destructive, habitat-decimating techniques like dynamite, bottom trawling, beach seining and increased capture of endangered marine life
. The turn towards unsustainable and environmentally hazardous practices allow for temporary economic relief, but will ultimately result in the destruction of an imperative industry, food, and job security and the environment.
Economy and Ecosystem Healing
The multifaceted situation in West Africa is bleak, but there are feasible measures at the local, state and regional levels that can begin the process of healing for the marine ecosystem and economic balancing between national and international boats. At the local level, the community fishermen should take part in governing waters and establishing regulations. Self-policing and engaging the community has proven to be an effective means of preventing overfishing
while allowing for the fish populations to rebound.
In Ngaparou, Senegal, residents worked with international and regional organizations as part of the West Africa Regional Fisheries Program to establish “co-management areas” run entirely by the local fishing community, instituting boundaries, regulations and protections set by the Ngaparou fishers; after four years, fish stocks have improved and subsequently become one of the most productive marine areas in the country.
Environmentally, each nation should create marine-protected areas to allow for the regeneration of environmentally vulnerable spaces, and economically, taking after Senegal, states could create exclusive economic zones solely for local fishermen. Surveilling and policing is integral to the success of this, and necessary to create progress on the rejuvenation of the marine ecology. The developing states in Western Africa possess fewer resources to actualize this, and could best be done in a coalition effort.
The Effects of Overfishing in West Africa
Utilizing the platform of the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission to be an enforcement mechanism of these marine protected areas would aid the rejuvenation process because they share an ecosystem. As there are no borders in the ocean, such an effort would demonstrate a unified front against illegal fishing activities. To accomplish such an admirable feat, the participating nations could conjoin Coast Guards or create a Commission guard, and each state would give legal jurisdiction to enforce legal fishing, permits and protected spaces.
The effects of overfishing in West Africa and local populations is dire to the livelihood of those communities; it threatens regional instability as food and job security are no longer realities with depleting fish stocks. The economies of these developing nations are fragile, and fishing is integral to the maintenance of the micro-and macroeconomic stability and improvement, which is then in turn crucial to the health and development of local communities.