Shipowners in Europe refuse to fish outside Mauritania and have asked for financial compensation – but their demands are facing resistance.
The EU and Mauritania on 26 July signed a protocol to extend their bilateral fisheries agreement. European vessel owners have complained that the deal is bad because it requires them to pay more money for the fishing licenses, limits the authorised catch areas, and because fishing for octopus no longer is allowed.
Shortly after the new deal was concluded, almost none of the fleets concerned had requested renewal of their licenses. Béatrice Gorez, coordinator of the Coalition for Fair Fisheries Agreements, commented: “One conclusion is that trawler fleets active in Mauritania cannot be profitable if they are obliged to fish sustainably.”
Mauritanian fishing sector welcomes the deal
While European vessel owners were unhappy, the Mauritanian fishing sector in Nouadhibou said the new agreement answered their essential concerns. In particular, they welcomed the ban of foreign fishing on octopus, the payments to be made according to quantities of fish caught, the increase of the proportion of Mauritanian nationals to be embarked on board EU vessels and more sustainable fishing zones.
Europêche, the shipowners’ organisation, has requested that the deal be renegotiated. The Spanish government and Spanish MEPs have spoken out on their behalf.
“I don’t fish there either, where do I apply for cash”
The Spanish Fisheries Minister, Arias Cañete, told the Spanish Congress on 6 September that he will request € 6.6 million in compensation for the “temporary cessation” of activities both for the shipowners who can apply for licenses under the agreement but have refused to do so, and for the octopus vessels that are now excluded from the agreement. The lion’s share would be payed to the ship owners and only a smaller share to the crew.
Said Béatrice Gorez: “I’m wondering, is it legal to receive temporary cessation aid when you refuse to go fishing – like the shrimp trawlers – rather than when fishing possibilities are refused to you – like octopus? It’s like I would sign a work contract, refuse to go to work and then get money for that.”
Jerry Percy, a UK small scale fisherman, tweeted: “I don’t fish in Mauritania either, where do I apply for the cash??”
Council discussion on Tuesday
Fisheries Ministers will meet in Brussels next week. The Mauritania agreement is listed as “Any other business” on the agenda, which means there will likely only be a discussion but no decision on the ratification of the deal. Spain has circulated a document with their position on the agreement.
In the past, northern member states like Sweden have often criticised the EU’s fisheries partnership agreements with West African states for being unsustainable. This time around, according to sources in Council, it is instead the Southern European nations that oppose the deal because it restricts European fishing too much.
In order to be fully in place, the deal needs to be ratified by both the European Parliament and the Council. The chair of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, Gabriel Mato, wrote this week in the Committee newsletter that he called upon Commissioner Damanaki to re-negotiate the Mauritania deal “in the best interests of the sector”.
Parliament resolution demands sustainable fishing
The question is whether Gabriel Mato is speaking on behalf of the entire Parliament or not. Last year the European Parliament adopted a resolution which calls for many of the provisions that are included in the new protocol. The Parliament called for ship-owners to pay a fair share of the value of the catch and for fishing to take place only on sustainable stocks.
Gabriel Mato asked the European Commission to consider new data on octopus stocks that shows that fishermen could continue fishing, fis.com reported.
Béatrice Gorez said this was a factual mistake: “There is no new scientific advice on the octopus. There is is only the results of a fishing trip by Mauritanian scientists showing that the abundance of octopus has increased – which is quite normal after a biological rest – but it’s not scientific advice.”