Below the surface of the Atlantic ocean is an entire eco-system of fish and exotic sea creatures, whose existence is crucial to the lives of thousands of fishermen; every year fishing activity is a major contributor to the economic activities of nations such as Mauritania and Sierra Leone.
Contrary to popular belief, fish is not only suitable for filling our tummies but for a number of other uses as well. For example did you know that fish leather can be used to make belts or wallets? That there is swim wear, glasses, foot wear and other items and accessories that are made from fish based products?
However, the fishing industry is facing an unprecedented crisis and this is partly due to fisheries subsidies, which contribute to overfishing and competitive distortion. This is done through subsidised fleets, tax breaks, loan guarantees and other forms of subsidies granted by economically powerful countries.
The problems with these fisheries subsidies are two-fold. First, there are economic ramifications when developing countries’ fishermen are forced to compete with their counterparts whose costs are subsidised by wealthier governments. The subsidies undercut the price of fish, and puts African fisherman who cannot afford to do the same in a difficult situation. The effects are profound; according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), almost 6 million fishermen live in poverty, and every year an increasing number of African fisherman flee the continent with the hopes of finding a more prosperous life in Europe.
The second issue that arises from fisheries subsidies is sustainability. Government subsidies encourage overfishing, which impacts the environment and affects conservation goals, leading to depleting levels of fish. According to the World Wide Fund (WWF), we are taking out more fish from the oceans than can be replaced.
The WTO has taken an active role in response to this crisis, with more than half of WTO members supporting controls on fisheries subsidies. While this is all well and good, it would hold more meaning once it translates into a better future for the fisherman sitting on the West African coast contemplating if the waters before him will be a source of comfort, inching him towards success at home, or a source of frustration, pushing him to a perilous journey across Africa to Europe.
Let Africa benefit from its fish.