Interview with Mrs Dienaba Beye Traoré, Head of Department for Harmonization of Policies and Legislations of the West Africa Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRCF)
Is the management of shared stocks, especially small pelagic species, an important issue for the SRFC?
The SRFC is an inter-governmental organization comprising seven Member States: Cabo Verde, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone, and three associated States: Morocco, Liberia and Ghana. The annual fish production in the area covered by the SRFC exceeds 1.7 million tons of fish, worth an estimated 1.5 billion US dollars per year. Almost 77% of these landings are composed of small pelagics, which are not only the cornerstone of fish trade in West Africa, - it is estimated that one million tons are marketed in the region per year - but also represent, on average, 26% of the animal protein intake of the region populations. These stocks are strategic for the region, and the SRFC promotes their sustainable management.
This aspect was also addressed by the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) answers to SRFC questions concerning the responsibilities of States in the fight against IUU fishing and in the sustainable management of shared stocks...
The ITLOS opinion reaffirms that the Coastal State has the primary responsibility to combat IUU fishing in its EEZ. It is up to the coastal State to take the necessary measures to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing, including boarding, inspection, seizure and judicial proceeding. It is also up to the coastal State to report to the flag State when its control over one of its vessels has not been exercised appropriately.
Regarding shared stocks, the ITLOS opinion also reaffirms that the SRFC Member States have the obligation to cooperate in order to take appropriate conservation and management measures to avoid that the shared resources are jeopardised by overexploitation.
It should be noted that the SRFC States are bound by the Convention on the Minimum Access Conditions (CMAC). The CMAC stipulates (Article 9 paragraph 2) that ' Member States shall give priority to the establishment of concerted fisheries management plans for shared stocks'. Through this Convention, the SRFC Member States undertake also to ensure that conservation and management measures are based on the most reliable scientific data available, and, if such data are insufficient, to apply the precautionary principle. These principles also apply to the negotiation and signing of fisheries agreements.
What is the main problem encountered regarding fisheries agreements signed by the region’s countries?
I would say the lack of consultation amongst member States in the negotiations of the fisheries agreements. Each State prefers its sovereignty on the national maritime space, at the expense of dialogue with its neighbours.
Then, if we look at article 3 of the SRFC Convention on the Minimum Access Conditions, it states that the access of foreign fleets should be allowed only after consultation with the research institutions of the State concerned. However, these research centers, which are supposed to convince States about the need to cooperate, are not well equipped in terms of infrastructure: lack or insufficiency of research vessels, no or few laboratories, as well as very difficult working conditions for researchers...
The Convention also states that embarking observers and local crew is mandatory for vessels fishing shared stocks. But again, States face difficulties for the embarking of these two categories of professionals because vessels do not come to port in each country. The CMAC accordingly favors the negotiation of grouped agreements, which could help avoid this problem by putting on board an observer and sailors with a regional status. A revision of the CMAC is envisaged to provide for the possibility to negotiate and sign such grouped fisheries agreements.
CMAC promotes the harmonisation of management measures in SRFC Member States. What is SRFC’s work in this context?
In the SRFC region, national legislations must be harmonised with the CMAC on a series of elements, including mandatory embarkment of observers and crew from the region, management measures, including for artisanal fisheries (characterization, fishing authorisation and registration of pirogues requirements), etc. This is important also in relation to the implementation of the Port State measures for combating IUU fishing: there is a need to harmonise the classification of offences in the Member States, in drawing up the list of serious offences. Currently, the SRFC is conducting studies to compare SRFC members’ national legislations to the CCMA. In addition, two draft protocols are being prepared, one on the protection of the artisanal fishing communities and one on Marine Protected Areas.