In the Joal-Fadiouth Marine Protected Area in Senegal, the local fisherfolk community battles against resource depleting commercial illegal fishing.
In many regions around the world, industrial fisheries are putting great pressure on ecosystems and on the local communities that depend on them. In West Africa for example, about 7 million people directly depend on fisheries for their livelihoods. In Senegal particularly, where roughly one out of five people works in the fishing industry, the estimated contribution of the fisheries sector to the GDP amounted to around 4% in 2016, one of the highest among West Africa countries. In order to address the threats posed by overfishing – mostly from highly subsidized industrial fisheries – in the West African upwelling region, in 2004 the Senegalese government established five Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) under decree N° 2004-1408, in Saint-Louis, Kayar, Joal-Fadiouth, Abene, and Bamboung, with the aim of conserving biodiversity as well as improving fishing yields and the related socio-economic benefits for local communities.
Although the national management of MPAs remains under the tutelage of the Directorate of Community-Based Marine Protected Areas and of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, participatory approaches for the design, implementation and management of MPAs are increasingly being promoted in Senegal. Located on the Petite Côte, the community-based MPA of Joal-Fadiouth lies 114 km South of Dakar, capital of Senegal, and spreads over 17,400 ha. Joal-Fadiouth is the main artisanal fisheries landing dock in the country, and its waters are some of the most fish-rich in West Africa. Of the 420,000 tonnes of fish annually landed in the whole country, 130,000 tonnes are landed in Joal-Fadiouth, while one third of the pirogues that are licensed to fish in Senegal are operating in this area. The overarching goals of the Joal-Fadiouth MPA were initially the conservation of habitats and species (through habitat restoration, reconstitution of natural population dynamics, fish stock recovery, and protection of endangered species) and the improvement of the local population’s living conditions. MPAs however also alter the use rights of local populations by setting up multiple restrictions to resource access. They tend for that reason to face some opposition from the affected communities. The development of ecologically sustainable and socially fair MPAs hence requires to combine both conservation and fisheries in one integrated system.
A crucial aspect that supports the social acceptability of the Joal-Fadiouth MPA is its community-based management. The President of the MPA’s Management Committee, Mr. Abdou Karim Sall, is a charismatic and well-known fisherman, who has also been the President of the local Fisheries Association since 2006. “Everything that is being done for me but without me, is done against me” stresses Mr. Sall with regards to the community-based management approach, before adding: “In the Joal-Fadiouth community-based MPA, fishermen are implementing their own management measures. For example, nighttime fishing has been forbidden in the area for the past 9 years from May 1st to December 31st. When the [Fisheries] Minister suggested to enforce a 4-months ban, the fishermen themselves advocated for an 8-months ban”. Increasingly, the MPA is in addition promoting environmental education and public awareness, not least in order to enhance its social acceptability among the local fishermen. The Joal-Fadiouth MPA has since its creation therefore led the way in terms of best practices for the establishment and management of other MPAs in Senegal.
However, over the years, the establishment of MPAs – whether in Senegal or elsewhere across the globe – has not always proven successful in safeguarding the resources on which coastal communities depend. Pelagic fish stocks notably, are decreasing fast, particularly in a context where Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is increasing the already high pressure on marine ecosystems. Not only does IUU fishing threaten entire ecosystems, but it results in economic losses as high as USD 50 billion globally. West Africa particularly, is reportedly the most hit region by IUU fishing around the world. Senegal, in 2012 only, lost about 2% of its GDP to IUU fishing activities. In the country, IUU fishing, mainly from foreign industrial vessels often operating in artisanal fishing areas, affects the livelihoods of local fishermen and forces them to go out longer and further at sea. Over the years, the worsening of this situation has led Mr. Sall and other fishermen to patrol and monitor the MPA night and day, in order to report criminal vessels to the Senegalese maritime authorities. The depletion of its fish stocks, partly worsened by harmful industrial fisheries subsidies, is indeed both socioeconomically and culturally dramatic for Senegal, where “fish is a key source of animal protein for people, […] and constitutes the first export sector”, according to Mr. Sall, who added, “Senegalese people eat 28kg of fish per year. Try to imagine Senegal without a Thieboudienne [the traditional Senegalese fish-based meal]!”.
Another indirect, yet important pressure put on Senegalese fisheries, is the increasing demand for fish meals for global aquaculture, driven by a growing demand for seafood on most continents. Directly established on the coast in Joal-Fadiouth, fish meal factories – of which some are foreign owned – put a great pressure on the resources, particularly sardinellas. “Such factories can process up to 6000 tons of fish per week, when Senegal is not supposed to fish more than 250 000 tons of fish per year when it comes to sardinella, in order to remain within ecologically sustainable limits”, explains Mr. Sall. Supplying themselves by buying their fish from local fishermen, these factories strongly expand the demand for fish, incentivize fishermen to catch even more, and increase the pressure on the already decreasing stocks. In addition, some of these factories are directly discharging their waste into the MPA’s waters, hence affecting the health of the surrounding seagrass beds that act as feed and nursery grounds, and that are therefore paramount for the replenishment of key commercial fish species.
IUU fishing in and around MPAs, and the threat it poses to marine biodiversity and food security, not only in West Africa but also along the Eastern African coast, has led to the development of Electronic Monitoring Systems (EMS), including high definition cameras, satellite geolocation or vessel monitoring systems, aimed at reporting vessels’ fishing activity. These systems are for instance currently being tested in Ghana and Fiji with other ongoing initiatives in the Indian Ocean. In Senegal and West Africa in general, with inadequate surveillance, MPAs alone prove insufficient in conserving marine resources. Despite the development of such technologies, looking ahead, Mr. Sall is worried: “We are currently transforming our ocean into liquid deserts!”. It is therefore the responsibility of governments to better support fisherfolk communities in MPAs and to help protecting their resources from international marine roving bandits.
Pictures : Joal-Fadiouth MPA Management Committee