The Gambia will allow European Union member states to use fishing trawlers to catch tunas and hake fish on its waters, in exchange for financial and capacity development assistance.
The agreement was signed between The Gambia and the EU in October 2018, under the protocol of Sustainable Fishing Partnership Agreement (SFPA).
It licenses the EU vessels to fish in Gambian waters for six years, possibly catching 3300 tons of tuna and tuna-like species. The vessels are also allowed to fish 750 tons of hake fish per year. In return, the EU will pay The Gambia 550,000 euros per year. The agreement also covers cooperation to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
A total win for Gambia
The Minister of fisheries, James Gomez hailed the deal as a ‘total win’ for The Gambia. He said “since tuna and hake are deep-sea fishes and local fishermen cannot catch them due to their capacity constraint, it’s prudent to allow others to catch them while The Gambia gets paid.
“For 22 years, we have not been able to get a dime from the fishing industry and we know that people were fishing in our waters. The EU agreement will make sure that the two strategies in the National Development Plan (NDP) are implemented,” he said.
Being deep-sea species, he said tuna is highly migratory too with fast speed to traverse from one country’s territory to another.
“This agreement will help us gain something from the resources that God has given us. Otherwise, they will be there and we will gain nothing because it is migratory. They will move from here to Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde and those countries are benefiting,” he said.
Gomez said apart from EU’s own contribution, ship owners will also make cash payment to The Gambia, though this was not announced in the EU deal.
However, stakeholders and experts have criticized the deal on the grounds that it poses risks to The Gambia whose monitoring and surveillance mechanisms are too weak to adequately check the activities of EU’s 41 vessels at sea should they go beyond the authorized species as indicated in the agreement.
Lamin Manneh, a fisherman for thirty years, expressed concern that the EU trawlers may catch more than they are allowed to. He cited the low capacity of the Gambian navy to monitor them.
“If the EU vessels limit their catches to tuna and hake, there’ll be no problem. But if they go beyond that, it will be difficult for us. In my 30-year career, I have seen many trawlers catching fish that they wouldn’t need and ended up throwing them in the sea.”
Dawda Jarju, a fisherman with 14 years of experience, said “we have seen before some of these European trawlers spreading their nets near the edge of the sea and the navy is not controlling them the way it should. They have nets that break the stones (a hide outs for fishes) and have access to all fishes without reservation. If that continues, how do we get fish?”
Jarju predicted that in the near future, The Gambia will experience acute shortage of fish if the country fails to control the sea.
He said if the EU fishing trawlers are licensed to operate it will be added to about 20 boats of Chinese and Japanese that catch butter fishes.
Oumie Faye, a fish smoker said: “We don’t support the deal. It makes our work difficult because the EU trawlers will be exporting most of their catches outside the country.”
For Dawda Saine, the President of the National Association of Artisanal Fisheries Operators (NAAFO), a body representing small scale fishermen and the industry, the first thing government should have done was to include the entire industry in the process.
According to him, the government shouldn’t have been the sole representative to negotiate the deal, adding that it should have been multi-stakeholder engagements.
In the monitoring aspect, he argued that government should also have the technical and equipment capacity like boats for monitoring, control and surveillance.
“A fishing agreement can have some negative impacts on small scale fisheries. And such impacts filter down to the population because that will create some kind of price hike and accessibility becomes a problem.”
Who pays the Gambian observers?
Although some Gambians will be part of the EU vessels as observers, Saine raised concern regarding proper commitment to monitoring roles as eyes of the country.
“Who pays them is the question. Is it the government who is directly paying them from government coffers or is it the EU ships or the owners of the companies who are going to pay them through government? These are vulnerable areas that may be open to some kind of bribery because those people have a lot of money on board. They can just give you something and you say nothing.”
He suggested that landing obligations should also have been part of the sectorial support of the agreement that will allow creation of tuna processing establishments.
On a positive note, Cherno Jallow, a former fisheries director described the agreement as an advantage to particularly species like tuna and hake.
He said local fishermen can catch tuna but the bottleneck is lack of facilities like boats, equipment and storage to do so.
Environmental science graduate, Abdoukarim Sanneh expressed concern about the Gambia’s biophysical flora and fauna and the fact that the country has no marine reserve. He said the global environmental and climate change and its impact of coral reefs in the Atlantic is threatening the Gambia’s fisheries resources. He cited England and Spain as countries who are protecting their marine ecosystem from unsustainable extraction.
“There is no marine designate reserve and everywhere is open to extraction by our local fisher folks, Europeans and Chinese trawlers. The kind of net these trawlers are using is destructive to marine environment,” he said.
Sanneh described the partnership as a trade injustice base on international politics and economy, adding that the EU and ACP agreement based on Cotonou agreement is at “our disadvantage”.
“If the minister is saying it’s a good deal, then who is monitoring the catches? Europe cannot survive without continually depending on our raw materials for their unsustainable pattern of consumption and production of resources.”
Settling for far less
Mbye Sey, a UK-based Gambian is another critic to this deal. “It’s clear this deal or partnership (SFPA) as EU calls it, is definitely not a win-win situation for both stakeholders.” He blamed the ministry for not doing their research to ascertain roughly how much the country’s 82 miles of fishing waters are worth.
“Just weeks ago, a blue fin tuna was sold at Tokyo market for 2,500 pounds. Just one and this kind of tuna can be caught in Gambian waters,” he said.
He argued that the EU package is not to transform Gambia’s artisanal fisheries to industrial one which the country could generate national wealth and create more permanent jobs for citizens.
“We’ll receive crumbs when we should have captured this opportunity to negotiate with the EU to help us evolve from artisanal fishing to industrial fishing,” he said.
To Sey, a visionary leadership would have negotiated a perfect deal that will be win-win for both sides.
“A simple research on what Gambian waters has to offer would have instilled confidence in us to negotiate a much better deal, even including amnesty for young Gambians lingering on EU streets, sleeping rough without a shelter or where to get next meal or worst deprived of their aspirations of a better future in the EU by deporting them.”
Instead of money, Sey suggested the fish could have been swapped with technical abilities to empower Gambians to build fishing industry.
“We could have asked for fishing trawlers and we could have asked for fishing quotas that must be sold to the Gambian market to ease the struggle of the new artisanal fishing and more. But we settled for far less,” he said.
Although the deal was approved by the National Assembly, objections and concerns were raised against it by some lawmakers.
The member for Serekunda, Halifa Sallah described it as a bad deal for the Gambia and called for renegotiation.
“Looking at the agreement from its face value, I would like to say that Gambia is horribly disadvantaged. Our ocean is the basis of the future survival of this nation and our young people are now being deported from Europe. I am receiving calls every day of the fear and threat they are being subjected to.”
Sallah said The Gambia will only receive pittance from the deal, while compromising the interest of young people particularly that are being deported.
The EU vessels are expected to start fishing on the Gambian waters very soon, when official processes are completed.