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Photo courtesy from China Dialogue Ocean

Opinion: Some fishing deals in West Africa make little economic sense

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Friday, June 24, 2022, 07:00 (GMT + 9)

The following is an excerpt from an article published by China Dialogue Ocean:

Agreements allowing foreign vessels to fish in the waters of West African states look to be bad deals for both host countries and foreign companies. It’s time to look at the alternatives, writes John Virdin

Some of humanity’s largest impacts on the oceans have come from the widespread industrialisation of fishing practices during the 20th century. While the rate of this growth in fishing pressure has since slowed in the northern, temperate waters of higher income countries where it originated, it is still increasing throughout the tropics. This is driven largely by foreign, “distant-water” fleets, mostly comprised of vessels registered under a small number of flags – including China, South Korea and Spain.

In the national waters where most fishing occurs, distant-water fleets can only operate legally with the authorisation of coastal and island governments, for example via licensing arrangements or government-to-government access agreements. One region where these arrangements are particularly prevalent is along the coast of West Africa, home to productive fishing grounds that have traditionally been an important source of food, jobs and trade.

Photo courtesy from China Dialogue Ocean

Many West African governments negotiate agreements with the respective governments representing distant-water fleets, or directly license the fleets to fish in their waters in exchange for public revenues (including licence fees). But over time, the operations of these fleets have come to be associated with a range of negative environmental and social impacts in the region, including overfishing, conflict and competition with local small-scale fisheries, and incidents of illegal fishing.

As academics (and practitioners), we at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions wanted to ask: putting aside all the negative social and environmental impacts and just looking at the economic benefits, is this “trade for fishing services” a good deal for West African governments?  What are the economic benefits generated for these countries by distant-water fleets, and where are they going? Our hope was – and is – that answering these questions could help the region’s coastal governments better assess if these deals have provided the intended benefits, and/or if there may be alternatives they could consider. 

Photo courtesy from China Dialogue Ocean

To answer these questions, we took a snapshot from 2017 of one of the largest distant-water fleets in West African waters: coastal bottom trawlers registered or largely owned in China that are licensed to fish in the waters of Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana.

Several years ago, we published a first study that looked at the state of these fisheries in 2015, though the picture was fairly unclear due to limited data. Our subsequent study benefits from much more data, including satellite-based data of vessel movements and interviews with captains about fishing costs, although it is important to acknowledge that we still had some data gaps that we filled with estimates.  So the picture remains fuzzy – but is hopefully getting clearer with each study. 

For these five countries, the size and distribution of the economic benefits suggests that it was either a bad deal for both parties, or at least for the coastal governments.

In Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana, the fleet generated little to no net economic benefits for either the fishing companies or the coastal governments (though it is also worth noting that Liberia licensed relatively little trawling in 2017); in Ghana, the fishing companies took 84% of the relatively low benefits (the amount was estimated as a range from low to high, with the higher end being US$7.7 million). (Continues...)

Author / Source:  John Virdin / China Dialogue Ocean | Read the full article by clicking the link here 

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