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7. Then, were are we with our ambitions for sustainable fisheries?

The fisheries administration of the Republic of Guinea, in its efforts to sustainably manage its resources has put in place a number of measures. These are in the context of its public policy, but also in the framework of the various agreements maintained with third countries and other actors of sustainable development (Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), the Regional Partnership for the Conservation of the Coastal and Marine Zones in West Africa (PRCM), the West Africa Regional Program of the World Bank (PRAO), etc.).

But like in other countries in the subregion, there is the question of their implementation. Indeed, as demonstrated by a country-by-country analysis of the effectiveness of Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) to counteract industrial IUU fishing, the annual economic losses are dramatic for countries needing to invest for their overall development and protect their resources for sustainable use (4).

Monofilament nets are prohibited but all around the quai with no attempt to hide themMeanwhile, the monofilament nets are prohibited for artisanal fishing, but cheap and easy to procure. The use of this harmful gear tends to become widespread as can be seen at port level. This gear, as evidenced by some old fishermen and some women involved in the fish trade and smoking, causes significant damage by degrading marine ecosystems through its poor selectivity and environmental pollution resulting from major losses of nets. The quantities of juveniles landed by these nets and subject to post-harvest losses are increasing compared with the years before (see interview with Mr. Soumah). According to this charismatic leader, beyond the environmental damage caused by this gear, the fishing communities must have interest in reducing their impact, particularly the catch of juveniles, in order to continue to be able to rely on marine ecosystems for a living.

Why is there a kind of status quo between the fisheries administration and the actors in the fisheries sector? We have found different answers.

The effective capacity for maritime surveillance and administrative and judicial prosecution of shipowners and industrial crews whose convictions are confirmed is not easy to develop and maintain. Especially since the administrations in place seem not yet well prepared to cope with major economic interests and very varied criminal methods as presented recently at a conference in the European Parliament on international organised crime associated with the fishing industry.

The increase in the number of domestic artisanal fishers, plus migrants from several nationalities in the subregion who tend to settle down, constitutes a contribution to the country's economy, but at the same time poses a problem for the sustainability of resources in the region. This becomes a problem to the extent to which massive IUU fishing adds to the catch of artisanal fisheries and competes with them directly. Monitoring and control is not yet as strict as it should be for the sector as a whole, including small-scale fisheries.

Moving the problems from the national context (level of each state) to the sub-regional level is not the only solution to consider. It is true that "A problem of regional dimension, needs a regional solution", but this way of reducing everything to a sub-regional approach is sometimes a real obstacle to any search for a solution, because it can distract from a measure already feasible and necessary at the local and national level. The example of fishers' organisations was often cited to illustrate these reservations with regard to a sub-regional approach in all directions. According to some of our interlocutors, the transfer of prerogatives from traditional leaders (at the community level) to a category of modern-day new leaders speaking on behalf of a whole sub-region without being well anchored among the people they are supposed to represent is a problem. A. Camara, a fisher in Boulbinet, speaking to us, said: "You know Sir, today NGOs listen and talk to people who are not listened to by the community because they are not delegated by our communities. What do you want?". It is imperative to take into account the areas of traditional power that continue to prove themselves at the local level (community scale).

The fishermen, having recognised that they have their share of responsibility in the current state of resource crisis and that it would be of great interest to their communities to bring the situation again under control, cited some factors that did not favour the reversal of this trend, such as:

  • The difficulty that some fisher leaders have - aware of the situation and ready to move - to convince their followers to change while industrial fishing vessels have free hands to do what they want. With more transparency in industrial fishing practices and better enforcement, this could help to make things happen on the artisanal fisheries side as well.

  • The market represents the power of money and as long as the demand for fish increases in rich countries, the pressure will continue on our resources. As our administrations (in poor countries) do not have enough resources (human resources, strong institutions, investment and governance capacity) this is hard to resist. Also, the bargaining power and the required coercive force of the administration are still lacking against the shipowners.

  • It is time to strengthen the competencies of the responsible administration so that they can fulfil their mandate and become more successful in reducing or even stamping out IUU fishing.

  • There may also be a role for fish consumers, especially in rich and emerging countries. Awareness-raising actions about the effects of their appetite on our ecosystems and low-income populations that have only fish as a source of animal protein could help slow the growth of demand. Serious labels identifying low-impact sustainable fishing could help in raising consumer awareness.

Returning to Senegal, the head still turns after having faced so many changes since the last visit. At the same time, the problems identified are not fundamentally different from those encountered in Senegal. In the important artisanal landing places one finds more and more fishermen who have their main base in another village or country, but who come for a campaign or settle themselves. The idea of an artisanal fisheries academy as a forum for exchange and joint research to deepen understanding of the issues and explore desirable and feasible exit routes seems more timely than ever, even necessary.

Text and photos are by Aliou Sall (unless indicated otherwise).

(4) Doumbouya A, Camara OT, Mamie J, Intchama JF, Jarra A, Ceesay S, Guèye A, Ndiaye D, Beibou E, Padilla A and Belhabib D (2017). Assessing the Effectiveness of Monitoring Control and Surveillance of Illegal Fishing: The Case of West Africa. Front. Mar. Sci., 4:50. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00050

The fisheries country profile of Guinea produced by the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission can be accessed here, while catches since 1950 reconstructed by independent research can be accessed here.