10 June 2015
10 June 2015
DEVELOPMENT AID OR RESOURCE LOOTING: TWO CONTRASTING VIEWS ON FISHERIES AGREEMENTS BETWEEN THE EU AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Europêche, a group representing the interests of European industrial fishers, has just published an infographic about the “sustainable fisheries partnership agreements”. These agreements are negotiated by the European Commission to allow industrial fleets from the EU to exploit the waters of about twenty developing countries, in return for a fee.
Despite Europêche praising their fairness and sustainability, scientists, NGOs and even politicians have regularly criticized these agreements.
WHY IS THIS INFOGRAPHIC BY EUROPÊCHE ON FISHERIES AGREEMENTS BETWEEN THE EU AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AN ABERRATION?
Its title, “European fishing access in Africa: sustainable fishing partnership agreement”, reminds us of the shift in terminology that has occurred several times since their inception (Fig 1). While many experts agree that Europe has gleefully plundered marine resources in Africa for years thanks to these agreements, we have seen their name evolve over the successive reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy: formerly referred to as “fishing agreements”, they have become “fisheries partnership agreements” in 2004, and “sustainable fisheries partnership agreements” during the last reform voted in December 2013. Although these semantic changes appeared along new social and environmental clauses, their reality is not really founded: few studies have analyzed the long-term social, environmental and economic consequences of these agreements; none have looked at their alleged improvement over time (see Frédéric Le Manach’s PhD thesis, Scientific Director of BLOOM).
The first semantic change that was introduced was “partnership” (probably to suggest common goals and autonomy for both parties), but it was not really implemented (see existing assessments). Similarly, the appropriateness of the use of “sustainable” would require a few years to be demonstrated. It is therefore too early to conclude that the new EU fisheries agreements are already sustainable.
In its graphic, Europêche indeed discusses various “successes” of these fisheries agreements. Yet, the opposite points could easily be made for the 1980-2015 period. While we hope to join Europêche in its enthusiasm regarding the social, economic and environmental benefits of fisheries agreements for local people in the future – in a more nuanced fashion – the picture they draw is far from the reality of these agreements.
THIS ENTHUSIASM MAKES SENSE. WHO IS EUROPÊCHE?
Europêche is an association that represents fishermen in Europe, but it essentially relays the concerns of the industrial segment of the European fleet. Its members include the largest EU fishing companies, precisely those who benefit from fisheries agreements. France, for instance, is represented by UAPF, which is chaired by Yvon Riva, also the president of Orthongel (cooperative of companies targeting tropical tuna off the coasts of Africa) and formerly of Saupiquet, a company involved in fishing and processing of tropical tunas.
Europêche was formerly chaired by Javier Garat, also a shareholder and Board member of Albacora SA, Europe’s first tuna company with several of the largest tuna fishing vessels in the world. Javier Garat was replaced in early 2015 by Kathryn Stack to support the EU fishing industry. The pro-industry and anti environmental NGOs stance of Ms. Stack is actually well established.
IN ITS INFOGRAPHIC, EUROPÊCHE LISTED SEVERAL OBJECTIVES OF THE FISHERIES AGREEMENTS:
“- Support for local communities;
– Food security and employment;
– Tackle IUU fishing and destructive fishing practices;
– Improve scientific research and data collection;
– Resource conservation and environmental sustainability;
– Create fishing opportunities for the EU fleet.”
IS THAT REALISTIC?
It is very surprising that “fishing opportunities for European fleets” are shown as the last objective of fisheries agreements. During the creation of fisheries agreements in the early 1980s, and especially with the entry of Spain into the EU, the goal of these agreements was openly a way to export the European fishing overcapacity while continuing to supply its seafood market. Putting it at the bottom of the objectives is thus hypocritical, since it is the main goal for the industry. For example, the French tuna industry considers that these fishing agreements are an inalienable right. In view of the assessments of these agreements, it also clearly appears that profitability comes far ahead of any other objectives.
The aim of contributing to “food security” is also very questionable: almost all of the European catch in the waters of “partner” countries is exported to Europe (where it represents 4% of the market according to Europêche). These exports consist of rather “luxury” products such as octopus, lobster and tuna that are sold at high prices in developed countries and that people in Africa never really see. Europêche mentions that fisheries agreements “provided millions of meals to the growing world population”. Again, this statement provides a very incomplete view, since it is not made explicit that these “meals” are mainly exported to Europe, the continent with one of the slowest population growth rate in the world. Europe heavily depends on imported fish every year, with an average fish consumption of 22 kg/inhabitant/year), compared to 15.5 kg/year for the average African. Speaking of these agreements as contributing to food security is therefore absurd, as, in Africa, they tend to have the opposite effect.
WHAT ARE THE IMPACTS OF THE EU FLEETS ON FISH STOCKS IN AFRICAN WATERS? ARE AFRICAN FISHERMEN OBSERVING A DECREASE IN THEIR MARINE RESOURCES SINCE THE INCEPTION OF THESE AGREEMENTS?
Europêche said that the “fisheries agreements are founded on the best scientific advice in order to preserve fragile fish stocks” and that “EU vessels only have access to surplus resources in exchange for financial contribution within a transparent legislative framework.”
Europêche is once again very optimistic. In fact, there are only a small number of stocks of targeted species by the EU through its fisheries agreements that are scientifically assessed. Even where such assessments exist, stocks are known to have been overfished. One of the most emblematic case is the Mauritanian octopus, but it is not the only one. Here is a quote from the assessment of the agreement between the EU and Guinea-Bissau, which would be funny if it were not dramatic: “The setting of TACs [Total Allowable Catch] appears to be pointless in the present context, as Guinea Bissau has no means of monitoring total catches. In any case, the crustacean TAC of 3,000 tonnes appears to have no biological basis, and does not indicate specific stocks”.
For tunas (yellowfin, skipjack and bigeye), which currently represent the vast majority of the species targeted within the EU fishing agreements, the situation is not much better: there is no quota for these species and the financial contribution of the EU shipowners is calculated per ton of fish caught. How can we talk about surplus, then (which corresponds to the difference between the total allowable catch and total domestic catches), while no catch ceiling is set?
In the view of many African fishermen, the situation is worrisome: testimonies of fishermen observing decreases in their catch yields are common. Although the European fleets cannot be held solely responsible, it is of concern that they do not question their presence in the waters of these countries.
EUROPÊCHE SAID THAT THE “SHIPOWNERS’ CONTRIBUTIONS [TO OBTAIN THE RIGHT TO FISH IN THE WATERS OF THESE COUNTRIES] ARE CONTINUOUSLY INCREASING”. ANOTHER LIE.
If one considers that the value of money does not change over time, Europêche is correct. However, anyone with some basic knowledge in economics can prove it is not true. Inflation is easily measurable and it is intellectually dishonest to say that a financial contribution increased if the adjustment for inflation was not done. This is what Europêche did here. For example, the financial contribution for tuna shipowners was 20€/t until 1998, then 25€/t until 2005 and finally 35€/t until 2014. The new tuna agreements include an industrial contribution of 55€/t of tuna caught. It is therefore entirely disingenuous of Europêche to ignore inflation: 20€ in the early 1980s were worth about as much as 55€ in 2015!
Finally, we could also note that the French tuna industry has publicly acknowledged paying a low fee in comparison to what they would be willing to pay (up to 7% of their turnover). According to estimates by the scientific director of BLOOM, we have not yet reached these 7%. French fishing companies believe, of course, that these estimates understated their contribution relative to their turnover, while refusing to show their “real numbers”. Would they have something to hide?
THE FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTION PAID BY THE INDUSTRY TO ACCESS THE COASTAL WATERS OF THE “PARTNER” COUNTRIES IS ONLY PART OF THE TOTAL CONTRIBUTION.
One can read on Europêche’s infographic that “in 2014 the EU budget paid for [fisheries agreements] was €68 million, of which 35% was used to reinforce the governance of the fishery sector in the partner countries.” Is this budget used soundly? Who is responsible for studying the evolution of fisheries management in partner countries?
The industry’s financial contribution merely represents 25% of the total compensation received by “partner” countries for allowing EU fleets to fish in their waters. The remaining 75 percent are subsidies, softly named “EU budget for fisheries agreements” by Europêche. European taxpayers thus contribute 75% of these agreements. Not sure it will please them all!
These subsidies are supposed to be more or less dedicated to strengthening the fisheries sector of the partner countries. The problem is that the use of this public money is often very opaque, as numerous evaluations have highlighted. We do not really know how it is used.
REGARDING THE EUROPEAN FLEETS, EUROPÊCHE STATES THAT “LESS THAN 400 EUROPEAN VESSELS OPERATE IN AFRICAN WATERS”, WHICH THEY COMPARE TO “755,200 AFRICAN-FLAGGED VESSELS.” DOES THIS MEAN THAT EUROPEAN FLEETS HAVE A LIMITED IMPACT?
Absolutely not. These numbers refer to sectors that cannot be compared. It is particularly disingenuous of Europêche to put on the same level the European fleets – which include 80+ m tuna seiners (of which 26 are French), and African boats, mostly composed of small motorized boats and canoes. Another factor to consider is that many of these African-flagged vessels are owned by foreign interests (mainly European and Asian). These are, for example, the French and Spanish tuna seiners flagged in Seychelles and Mauritius for fiscal purposes.
WE COULD ALSO TAKE OUT OF THIS “AFRICAN FLEET” MANY VESSELS INVOLVED IN JOINT VENTURES.
During the suspension of the agreement with Senegal in 2006, several of the European vessels suddenly became Senegalese. One stone two birds: they could continue fishing in Senegalese waters whilst escaping European control and regulations. Regarding the latter point, things should fortunately change in the near future: a new regulation requires that EU vessels can only apply for a license as part of a fisheries agreement if they have been EU-flagged for the previous two years (Article 31.9).
“THE FISHING AGREEMENTS INCENTIVISE EU VESSELS TO LAND THEIR CATCH FOR PROCESSING IN THE PARTNER COUNTRY”. WHAT DO THE FISH CAUGHT BY EU FLEETS BECOME?
Fishing agreements promoting local processing and landing is a good thing, in the sense that it creates a few jobs as well as some locally-added value for the partner country. However, it is important to highlight that processing plants are mainly foreign-owned, attracted by the cheap local labor. Fish are transformed locally but immediately re-exported to Europe. Thus, there are local benefits, but also a lot more benefits directed towards Europe.
SOME MEASURES SEEM TO INTRODUCE SAFEGUARDS. WHAT ABOUT THOSE?
“The fisheries agreements are suspended if human rights and other democratic principles are not respected in partner countries”; or “fisheries agreements never authorise EU vessels to fish within 12 nautical mile of the shore to avoid competition with local artisanal fishers.”
Human rights and democratic principles must also be observed by the EU. The case of Western Sahara is emblematic: Europe (and other countries) have happily been fishing for years without noticing that both the local people and the United Nations were opposed to it (see www.fishelsewhere.eu).
Regarding the 12-mile zone in which Europeans cannot fish, that is also wrong. In many cases, the authorized fishing zones were well below 12 nautical miles. It is possible that this measure will be applied in the future for new fisheries agreements, but, again, it would be dishonest to close our eyes on the reality of 30 years of these agreements. Moreover, the interaction between the industrial EU fleets and local artisanal fishermen does not stop at 12 nautical miles from the shore. Some species such as tuna and sardines are highly migratory, and the effects of offshore overfishing on coastal fisheries are still largely unknown.
EU FISHING AGREEMENTS ARE PUBLICLY AVAILABLE ON THE INTERNET. CAN WE SAY THAT THEY ARE STILL PREFERABLE TO OTHER TYPES OF FISHING AGREEMENTS, NEGOTIATED DIRECTLY BETWEEN SHIPOWNERS AND THIRD COUNTRIES?
It is quite paradoxical, but one reason that fisheries agreements are so criticized is that they are virtually the only ones in the world with a transparent legal framework! Private agreements also exist, and they are directly negotiated by shipowners, not by the European Commission. Other types of agreements negotiated by states also exist, for example with Asian countries and Russia. These ones are negotiated in the utmost discretion and we know virtually nothing of them. Their negotiation and operation are completely opaque and we can expect that the benefits for “partners” countries are much lower than under EU public fishing agreements.
WE MUST THEREFORE CONTINUE TO CRITICIZE THE EU FISHERIES AGREEMENTS IN A POSITIVE WAY IN ORDER TO IMPROVE THEM, SO THAT THEY ARE NEVER REPLACED BY OBSCURE PRIVATE AGREEMENTS.
However, it is not superfluous to ask a “sovereignty question” with regards to the access to resources and food: is it ethical that Europe supplies its market in Africa given that it overexploited its own fishing areas? Or should we rather think about eating less fish?