Greenpeace activists intercepted a 96-meter tanker in the English Channel carrying fish oil from West Africa to Europe to highlight the threat they believe the industry poses to food security and livelihoods in the region.
The trade figures analyzed by Greenpeace Africa show that fish meal and fish oil exports from Mauritania alone rose by an “alarming” 16% in 2020. Activists and locals say the industry is driving prices up and depleting stocks of fish consumed by local people in poor communities in Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia.
“This is big business that is killing our oceans and depriving our fishing communities of their livelihoods,” said Dr. Aliou Ba, the Ocean Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa. “This trade in fish meal and fish oil is not sustainable. The fish used in fish oil and fish meal could be used to feed the West African population. “
The Key Sund, a Norwegian flag ship capable of carrying 4,500 tons of fish oil, equivalent to 90,000 tons of processed fish, left Nouadhibou, Mauritania on September 27th. It was believed to be on the way to deliver some of its cargo to a fish oil company in France.
The EU is a leading market for West African fish meal and fish oil. According to Greenpeace, around 70% of fish oil exports from Mauritania went to the EU in 2019 and 76% in 2020.
The tanker’s owner, Sea Tank Chartering, said it obeyed international and local laws and conducted “ordinary business activities” that had the potential to improve the livelihood of local people.
According to a report from Changing Markets, a Dutch company, every year more than half a million tons of fish are taken from the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia and processed into fish meal and fish oil, which is mainly used in agriculture and fish farm-based organization and Greenpeace Africa.
Hugo Matre, a spokesman for Sea Tank Chartering, said, “We appreciate the work Greenpeace does in working for people at risk on the ground. But as far as we know, trade has the ability to strengthen local entities with the prospect of improving the livelihoods of the locals. “
When asked about the results of a UN working group that recommended a 50 percent reduction in fisheries for overfished sardinella species in West Africa, a key species used in fish oil and fish meal, Matre said, “This is an important concern, but it is It is difficult for an individual company to be involved in such political issues. “
In Senegal, soaring prices for sardinella and bonga, two types used in the fishmeal and fish oil industries, threaten the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen.
The species, especially sardinella, a staple food in all of West Africa, are being overexploited and, according to a working group of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, “pose a serious threat to food security in the sub-region”. FAO calls for an urgent reduction in fishing effort for Sardinella species by 50%
Women fish processors and artisanal fishermen in Senegal have protested against their government granting industrial fishing licenses to foreign vessels.
In the Gambia, artisanal fishermen said they held their government responsible for encouraging overfishing and allowing fishmeal factories to operate.
Sulayman Ndong, 34, an artisanal fisherman from Gunjur, The Gambia, said, “Fishmeal and oil plants have done a lot of damage to our marines. We got more catches before the fishmeal crop came up, but now our catches are running out.
“The government is not doing its job the way it should. You shouldn’t let an industry encourage overfishing. “
Fatou Bojang, 42, a fish processor in Gunjur, said, “Before the Gunjur fishmeal factory came up, we used to have a lot of fish to smoke and sell across the country, but now we are in competition with the Golden Lead factory.
“I feed my family and if such fishmeal factories continue to run, my children cannot go to school because I cannot afford school fees and daily expenses. That will affect their future. “
The West African production of fish meal and fish oil has increased more than tenfold in the last ten years from 13,000 tons in 2010 to more than 170,000 tons in 2019, as the report by Changing Markets and Greenpeace shows.
Globally, 69% of fish meal and 75% of fish oil are used for Aquafeed to produce farmed fish such as salmon and trout.
Greenpeace Africa is calling for a 50% reduction in industrial fishing in the region to allow stocks to recover. She wants to see stricter, well-enforced regulation in West Africa and the EU in order to prevent overfishing in the future and to prevent unsustainably sourced fishmeal and oil products from reaching the EU market.
She calls for a ban on the use of fish suitable for human consumption for fish meal and oil, and calls for small local fishermen and processors to be given formal legal status to protect their fishing rights.