Is unauthorized and overfishing by European and Chinese fishing vessels connected with the growth of piracy in Africa?
Recently fishing unions in Senegal in West Africa warned that if unauthorized fishing by foreign trawlers in their waters is not reined in, piracy could take hold in Senegal and it could end up becoming an international threat to shipping like Somalia. The economic losses resulting from pirate attacks in Somalia is estimated at ten billion dollars.
The FAO, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, maintains that all the aquatic resources of West Africa have been exploited to the full capacity and even beyond. And currently over one and half million local residents of the region, whose lives depend on these resources, are facing deep economic hardship. Statistics reveal that European fishing vessels catch over 235 thousand tons of fish between the waters of Mauritania and Morocco alone while tens of thousands of tons are also caught with giant nets in the waters of Sierra Leone, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau and other countries.
Poverty and Lack of Security in Somalia
The origin of piracy in Somalia goes back to the 1990s when the Siad Barre regime fell from power resulting in the disintegration of the navy and coastal guards.
At that time tens of thousands of people whose lives faced dire difficulties due to severe droughts and poverty in Somalia turned to coastal areas and formed fishing communities to provide for their needs and thus fishing became their only means of survival. When civil war broke out in Somalia, foreign fishing vessels began entering Somali waters illegally and catching large volumes of rock-lobster and other warm water fish along the tip of the Horn of Africa.
Finally Somali coastal residents who saw their livelihoods threatened by foreign trawlers took up arms and became a kind of coast guard. This however led to the creation of piracy in these waters. In time, ransom payments to poor fishermen of Somalia by these foreign fishing vessels encouraged the escalation of pirate attacks.
On the other hand illegal fishing vessels approached Somali warlords in order to seek protection from the bandits and thus a number of ships continued their illegal fishing activities with armed Somali militiamen on board.
In the meantime discharge of toxic and chemical waste into Somali waters by foreign ships caused serious damage to marine ecosystem of these waters also producing a negative effect on local fishing.
Therefore illegal exploitation of the natural resources, degradation of the marine environment, poverty and war created a vicious cycle of corruption, theft and destruction in Somalia.
Some analysts like the British defence and security think tank the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies which has conducted a study of Somali piracy say that overfishing is not the only cause of piracy in Somalia and East Africa.
They claim that piracy has come into existence as a means of generating income by armed groups and their claims about protecting fishing in the coastal regions has been used merely as an excuse to legitimize their actions in the eyes of the local residents.
According to this institute, piracy in Somalia has become the biggest maritime threat since the Second World War.
The British daily Guardian also published a detailed article on this topic on April 3. This article focuses on comparing the warnings issued by Senegalese fishers with the past warnings by Somali fishers and it concludes that the current warnings about the influx of Chinese, European and Russian fishing trawlers in North, East and West of Africa should be taken seriously.
In 2006 Somali fishers would say that illegal fishing trawlers not only deplete natural and aquatic resources, they also use various methods to stop local fishers from their activities. According to Somali local fishers, foreigners had torn their nets and made permanent bases for themselves near the coast.
Now Senegalese fishers are stating similar statements and saying that catches are already down by 75 percent since 10 years ago because foreign illegal fishers have extensively depleted their aquatic resources and they are very worried about the approach of a big catastrophe.
Recently a number of local Senegalese fishers have warned that they will attack foreign vessels to protect their vital resources and local economy. They maintain that within the next ten years people will become armed and fishers will go fishing with guns aboard. If this happens, another vicious cycle of depleting national resources, destroying the environment, poverty and piracy will take West Africa in its clutches.
[translated from the original in Persian]