According to the EU, the operation of European vessels in African waters via Fisheries Partnership Agreements (FPAs) is of minimal impact, representing less than 20% of total fishing pressure in the area with the remainder comprised of artisanal fishing. However evidence suggests this statement is wildly optimistic. According to Greenpeace and local fishers unions, very large European factory trawlers are fishing African waters far beyond sustainable levels to the detriment of local ecosystems and livelihoods. (see How Africa is feeding Europe: EU (over)fishing in West Africa. Greenpeace 2010).
Clearly the European Commission’s statement that “the EU’s FPAs are not part of that problem. Indeed, they may be part of its solution”, is fundamentally flawed (The Common Fisheries Policy: A Users Guide. EC 2009). Whether this is due to simple ignorance of the issues or a failure to acknowledge the evidence is not clear. What is clear however, is that as fishing overcapacity has driven large scale declines in sea-life populations in EU waters, the use of FPAs to expand the reach of European vessels is leading to leakage of this problem to other global areas.
As governments across Europe comply to increasing pressure to designate MPA networks within waters at home, measures to prevent the most damaging fishing operations moving to less protected waters must be implemented if MPA designation is to hold any significance for our sustainable use of the seas.
As the EU Common Fisheries Policy approaches reform in 2013 this will be a key point at which to apply pressure for change.