Overfishing causing food insecurity in Senegal, and it’s all about China

The people of Senegal are in the midst of a food security crisis. According to the World Food Programme, 50% of Senegal’s population are already food insecure and, with China overfishing the waters of Senegal, this figure is bound to rise.
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China’s overfishing is having drastic impacts on the socioeconomic development of Senegal, as well as the marine ecosystem. Senegalese people rely heavily on fish as a part of their protein intake, with The World Bank estimating fish makes up to 60% of protein intake in coastal communities in Africa. With China taking more and more fish each year, local Senegalese people are finding it hard catch enough fish.

Overfishing is also impacting the local fishing economy, as 20% of Senegal’s population are employed in fishing related industries. The decreasing catch is crippling coastal communities and small-scale fishermen are being pushed out of the industry. Without a steady income, families are at risk of not being able to afford food and other basic needs.

A losing battle

Some fishermen are trying to compete with China in an attempt to save their livelihoods, though take dangerous risks in doing so. Fishermen have been going further out to sea, where they battle storms and suffer engine failures. There have also been cases of encountering illegal fishing boats that can destroy Senegalese fishing equipment or even crush their handmade wooden boats.

This isn’t a competition small-scale fishermen are going to win on their own. In a study by Frontier in Marine Society, researchers have found China catches more fish in a week than Senegal does in a year. China also has the luxury of high quality fishing boats and government subsidies, which are not available for the Senegalese.

A risk for future generations

Chinas unsustainable fishing practises are having an impact on the marine ecosystem, which threaten Senegal’s food security for generations to come. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) has estimated 90% of fisheries are facing collapse or are fully exploited. This means the amount of fish being caught cannot increase, or worse, will decrease.

The ecological health of Senegal’s waters is currently unknown due to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, however, it is likely to be in a worrying condition. Though fishing that drags nets along the sea floor, bottom-net fishing, is banned, China continues to use this method of fishing. This damages the ecosystem of key species which has an impact on the entire food chain and can cause a decrease in biomass. Chinas unsustainable methods have forced Senegal to start being unsustainable, with local fishermen now catching juvenile fish, putting the food security of future generations at risk

Food or development?

Senegal’s IUU fishing is linked to the poor governance in the West African region, being common where governments lack strategy and confidence to combat the issue. Senegal has a tougher stance on China’s fishing than other West African countries, having limited the number of boats China can have in its waters. A key issue Senegal faces is precisely the fact that some West African countries do not restrict China’s fishing capacity or do not have an issue with their unsustainable practices. Fish, of course, do not keep to country boundaries. That means that while migrating, they are caught by Chinas fishermen operating in other West African waters. To combat the issue, West African countries need to work together, something they are not keen to do, despite IUU costing the area £2.3billion each year. Senegal has started to fine IUU fishing boats, but the sanctions are still too small. Besides, many Chinese boats raise local flags as a disguise.

The main reason why many West African countries are reluctant to crack down on China’s exploitation is their contribution to development programmes. China contributes $60 billion to African development, and West African countries fear money will be withdrawn if they reduce Chinas access to their waters. Regional governments also exchange money for access, without thinking about the long-term effects of overfishing.

The West’s influence

Whilst the West are not playing a role in the fishing itself, they do influence China’s extensive overfishing. China is the biggest exporter of fish, with a rise seen after the Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Chinese fishermen to use bigger boats and explore further into the oceans. Many high-end fish such as salmon and tuna end up in American, Japanese and European markets. The demand for unsustainable products come from The West, and China is simply meeting these demands.

The European Union (EU) has two very conflicting agendas which have been around for many years. In 2002, the EU released a report on the alarming biomass decrease in West Africa, yet the same week signed a 4 year contract with Senegal to have access to their waters. Whilst the EU have stopped fishing in these waters, the hypocrisy continues. A study which looked into the underreporting of Chinas annual catch was funded by the EU and China’s overfishing was condemned. However, the 2nd largest import of fish into the EU is from China, after Norway. The European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) estimated the EU imported €1.46 billion worth of fish from China in 2014. Whilst not all this fish is from Senegal or West Africa, the EU is still supporting the unsustainable practices China uses.

Senegal’s food security and socioeconomic development is under threat unless interventions are made. Whilst China is the country exploiting the waters and using poor governance to their advantage, they may not be completely accountable. The West plays a part, yet hides behind China, who appears to take most of the blame. The West has a key role in shaping China’s operations, which needs to occur sooner rather than latter before the situation in Senegal worsens.

Human Rights
Ailish Craig

Ailish Craig is a recent Geography and Economics student from the University of Southampton, where she enjoyed the conflict in interests between the two subjects. Ailish has spent time volunteering in Nicaragua, on a natural resource management and sustainability project. She has a keen interest in how developing countries will be effected by climate change and how impacts can be minimised, as well as women’s rights.
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