New initiatives to strengthen conservation efforts and management of coastal and marine resources

Held from 25 to 29 November 2013 in Dakar, Senegal, the 7th edition of the Regional Coastal and Marine Forum proposed several new initiatives. Organised by the Regional Marine and Coastal Partnership (PRCM ), this edition has been articulated through several thematic workshops. Under the supervision of the coordination unit based in Nouakchott, it was attended by about 200 people from different colleges or groupings that drive the PRCM. These colleges are: research centers, national and international institutions, national and international NGOs, socio-professional organisations, the private sector (fishing, tourism, oil, as well as financial partners). The West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) also took part. The central theme this year was "Investing in marine and coastal conservation for the well being of the people".

Presenting the subject in this way reflects the growing recognition of the importance of a healthy and productive environment for the basic needs of citizens in coastal countries. On the other hand, we should not forget that the insurance and re-insurance industry begins to raise the issue for big businesses and States. They suffered losses caused by the increase in extreme events that cause damage. This is in the general context of climate change and weakening the resilience of natural ecosystems. Protection of the environment is neither a luxury nor a concern only for a few specialists.

The official programme of the forum, including how the thematic workshops were designed, showed that the PRCM was keen on how to make their work more efficient on the one hand and how to improve the contribution of its partners (the colleges) on the other. Indeed, recommendations were made during the closing day chaired by the Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Economy of Senegal, Mr. El Ali Haidar, demonstrating a commitment to a new dynamic. All of these recommendations will be disseminated on a large scale, once the proceedings are finalised. However, among the highlights emerging from this meeting, we can already mention some, namely:

First, regarding illegal, unregulated and unreported ( IUU) fisheries, a breakthrough of understanding is making inroads that can be easily appreciated by summarising the results of work done by the team of Prof. Daniel Pauly on the tragedy of IUU fishing for the Forum countries. Dyhia Belhabib, first author of a team of researchers presented detailed catch reconstructions and options for action for each country. These were the result of intensive investigations conducted for several years. These results highlight the considerable economic losses suffered by the countries of the sub-region, resources the countries urgently need to meet the development aspirations of their populations. Although there remains a degree of uncertainty to these innovative scientific studies, they characterise the situation more realistically than some traditional discourses and highlight the massive underestimation of the total catch, and especially the distribution between domestic and foreign industrial enterprises. These results invite to deeply review the attitudes, policies and investment strategies to the management of fish stocks. The reconstructions of real extractions of fish and marine invertebrates in the sub-region during the last decades have not been questioned in the plenary, if not by a question raised by the Gambian Delegation on the margin of error in the statistics, since they usually involve also some simulation in this particular field. The situation described in the case of Guinea-Bissau has been strongly supported by delegates from this country, who compared the nocturnal industrial fishery with "Tokyo by night" given the number of Asian vessels operating at night, defying the controls.

A second point, which has been the subject of debate concerns the reliability of the FAO data, even if at the same time, participants recognised that FAO publishes what States submit to it. This concern is therefore also returned to national accounting services that communicate the official figures to the only UN organisation that compiles global statistics and therefore not only significantly influences the perception of trends in the industry but also some investment decisions.

Thirdly, for the first time, the Sub -Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) took the decision to make a referral to the International Tribunal of the Sea for the pursuit of IUU vessels in the SRPC space. The SRPC was supported in this by the Conference of Ministers showing real evidence of political will. Madame Dieynaba BEYE, lawyer and head of the "Legislation" Department at the SRFC explained the process the SRFC went through to send a request, November 29, 2013, to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The Regional Partnership PRCM solemnly pledged in plenary to accompany the SRFC in this process. We may think that the research results on actual catches have contributed to this new resolve to act against fraud and blatant abuses already weighing on the economies of the countries.

Fourth, for a better impact of work to fulfill its assigned mission, the PRCM decides to make every effort for greater ownership of its vision and actions and a greater engagement of the coastal communities in all of the measures. A final recommendation was indeed for the PRCM to enter into a twin dynamic between "regional - national" levels of action. One workshop was therefore dedicated to members of civil society (NGOs in particular) of the seven Member States plus another workshop for professionals. Other colleges have each managed one workshop. Ultimately, the goal is to foster this dynamic at national level for and with each of these colleges.

Prizes were awarded to NGOs and partner communities of the PRCM. The Senegalese Minister for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Haïdar El Ali, handed them to the winners in two categories:

  • Conservation and sustainable management of marine and coastal resources;
  • Income generating activities to improve food security and the fight against poverty.

In the first category the Association of women processors Buba calhau Rio Grande, BUBA (Guinea Bissau) and the NGO OCEANIUM (Senegal) were recognised, while the NGO Bios da Boavista (Cape Verde) and the Local Fisheries Committee (CLP) Ngaparou (Senegal) have won in the second.

Already at the official opening, Madame Aminata Touré, Prime Minister of Senegal, had announced that the law for a better conservation of the coast would be submitted to the National Assembly, given the multiple attacks it suffers.

The CREDETIP, Senegalese NGO active in the fishing sector, participated as one of the national invitees of the Forum to discuss the project "integration of the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) in the school curriculum in The Gambia and Senegal". This project was implemented by Mundus maris in partnership with CREDETIP, which coordinates certain of its activities in West Africa. This is the result of pilot activities for the EAF Nansen project of the FAO carried out between 2011 and 2012. It was therefore judicious to participate in the Forum as environmental education in schools is increasingly recognised as important for the future and is now part of the new priorities of the PRCM.

By Mundus maris in Senegal