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Fishing Historical Background

Mauritania 's waters are attractive to foreign fishing vessels. Wind blowing off the Sahara draws cold water from the bottom of the ocean, creating ideal feeding conditions for fish.

Until recently, this nation of about 3.0 million has managed to preserve its fish stocks better than most, in part because of its culture. A French protectorate until 1960, Mauritania is split between Arab and black Africans. Nomadic Arabs (Bedouins) who dominate politics and the economy but have no tradition of fishing. "We like the desert, not water," is the usual motto…

A drought in the 1970s and 1980s pushed people towards the coast. The number of small fishing vessels grew to 3,600 in 2000, from 500 in 1986, according to the European Union records.

In order to translate sustainability into optimum catch quantities, there was a need for an inventory of the pelagic fish stocks together with appropriate legislative measures. During this period, research have been carried out in this area by the French, Soviet and East-German scientists. To update the research on pelagic stocks, the European trawler owners even took the initiative to commission a study led by the “Netherlands Institute for Fisheries Research” on the pelagic fish stocks and their catch potential off the coast of Mauritania.

They worked in close cooperation with scientists of the Mauritanian research institute "Centre National de Recherches Océanographiques et des Pêches" (CNROP) - which is nowadays called “Institut Mauritanien de Recherches Océanographiques et des Pêches” (IMROP) - and the university of Las Palmas ( Spain ).

When the Soviet Union fleet of stern trawlers in West African waters significantly decreased, at the beginning of the 1990s, there was a situation of under utilization of the pelagic fish stocks. From a biological point of view, no objections existed then to start fishing on pelagic species.

Eager to keep its people fed, the government did not make initially any effort to license or control domestic boats or catches. However it soon realized that the country could rely on revenue generated from sales of fishing rights to foreigners.

Because European fish stocks had declined sharply, the European Union - whose member nations account for about 85,000 fishing vessels - needed to find new fishing grounds. The EU signed its first fishing deal with Mauritania in 1987. This cash helped to sustain the nation through hunger, conflict with Senegal (between 1989 and 1991) as well as some “coups d'état”.

During the period 1991 to 1999, the number of vessels deployed by the Soviet fleet and then by the Russian Federation fleet, was by far the largest, followed by vessels flying the Ukrainian, Dutch and Lithuanian flags.

In 2001, 223 foreign ships declared fishing activities in the Mauritania EEZ (slightly more than half are from the European Union). All these foreign boats abide to the fishing agreements (independent free licensing or chartering).

For example, the average number of vessels operating in the Mauritanian area and fishing pelagic sardinella was about sixty each year. In terms of weight, sardinella catches since 1996 in the Mauritanian EEZ are the most important. This is partly due to the entry of a new pelagic fleet from the European Union that targeted the round sardinella (Sardinella aurita) in particular. The sampling on board these vessels over the past two years (1999-2000) has shown an annual percentage of sardinella catch of about 84% of the total catch.

When negotiations on a new fishing treaty began in 2004, the EU promised to respect a United Nations treaty agreement against fishing depleted stock. On 24 July 2006, it was announced that a fisheries agreement had been reached between Mauritania and the European Union. The agreement, entered into force on 1 August 2006, has a duration of six years. In exchange, the EU grants financial compensation of 86 million €uros per year to Mauritania . An additional amount coming from ship owners contributions is estimated at 22 million €uros (in the event that all fishing possibilities are utilized). The money now provides one-third of the government's annual budget.

Fishing rights under the current EU Mauritania Protocol are allocated as follows:

Fishing category GT or maximum number of licences per licence period Member State GT, licences or annual catch ceiling by Member State
Category 1: Fishing vessels specialising in crustaceans other than crawfish and crab 9 440 GT
7 183 GT
1 371 GT
886 GT
Category 2: Black hake trawlers and bottom longliners 3 600 GT Spain 3 600 GT
Category 3: Vessels fishing for demersal species other than black hake with gear other than trawls 2 324 GT
United Kingdom
1 500 GT
800 GT
24 GT
Category 4: Pelagic freezer trawlers fishing for demersal species 750 GT Greece 750 GT
Category 5: Cephalopods 18 600 GT
43 licences
39 licences
4 licences
Category 6: Crawfish/langouste 300 GT Portugal 300 GT
Category 7: Freezer tuna seiners 36 licences
15 licences
20 licences
1 licences
Category 8: Pole-and-line tuna vessels and surface longliners 31 licences
23 licences
5 licences
3 licences
Category 9: Pelagic freezer trawlers 22 licences for a maximum ceiling of 440 000 tonnes
United Kingdom
190 000 tonnes
120 500 tonnes
73 500 tonnes
20 000 tonnes
10 000 tonnes
6 000 tonnes
10 000 tonnes
10 000 tonnes
Category 10: Crab fishing 300 GT Spain 300 GT
Category 11: Non-freezer pelagic vessels 15 000 GT per month, averaged over the year - -

A number of measures have been adopted in the new Protocol to benefit Mauritania and local national fishermen:
* The zones in which EU vessels operate have been pushed further from the Mauritanian coast to afford greater protection to the local artisanal (small-scale) vessels.
* An increased volume of its fish catches will be landed in the country to boost onshore jobs and to allow the Mauritanians to monitor catches better.
* The EU vessels will also employ a greater number of Mauritanian fishermen.
* Part of the EU's financial contribution will also go to support a number of targeted measures aiming at improving fisheries in Mauritania .

Source EU data

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