Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The EU's fishy politics off the coast of Mauritania

From Reuters:

The European Union will renegotiate a fishing deal this month with Mauritania, its most valuable such agreement, and seek to pay the country less compensation due to the lower amounts of fish it takes.

The EU has signed more than 20 bilateral fishing agreements, nearly all with developing countries and mostly in Africa, that give the bloc a substantial extra supply of fish.

The deal with Mauritania is the largest and most valuable to EU countries, allowing 200 boats flying the flags of some 13 EU nations to catch many species in Mauritanian waters.

For that, the EU pays Mauritania 86 million euros ($125.8 million) a year, an arrangement that represents almost a third of Mauritania's national revenue.

Since the EU is not using all its fishing quota allowances, experts at the European Commission's fisheries unit want to lower them -- and pay less from EU coffers. After the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding last month that they would renegotiate terms, those talks should resume in late February.

However, the Commission aims to keep the overall value of the Mauritania deal unchanged since the Commission's development unit would probably step in to pay the balance, diplomats say.

But the European fishing industry is not as cut-and-dry as you’d expect.

From the Wall Street Journal, through Yale Global Online.

Wealthy countries subsidize their commercial fishermen to the tune of about $30 billion a year. Their goal is to keep their fishermen on the water. China, for example, provides $2 billion a year in fuel subsidies; the European Union and its member nations provide more than $7 billion of subsidies a year. Such policies boost the number of working boats, increase the global catch and drive down fish prices. That makes it more difficult for fishermen in poor nations like Mauritania, who get no subsidies, to compete.

The end result: African waters are losing fish stock rapidly, with ramifications both to the economies of Africa's coastal nations and to the world's ocean ecology. Over the past three decades, the amount of fish in West African waters has declined by up to 50%, according to Daniel Pauly, a researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Boats for Migration

On Africa's coast, thousands of fishermen have been put out of work. Some have been using their boats to try to migrate illegally to Europe. The economic effect extends beyond fishermen to the many women who sell fish in markets in coastal communities.

Shifting global dietary patterns are partly to blame. A booming world-wide appetite for seafood has lifted the fishing industry's global production to record levels. Total fish trade grew to $71.5 billion in 2004, up nearly 25% from 2000, according to the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, an office of the United Nations. "There are too many boats chasing too few fish," says Grímur Valdimarsson, director of the FAO's fisheries division.

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