African migrants follow their fish to Europe

 A vast flotilla of industrial trawlers from the European Union, China, Russia and elsewhere, together with an abundance of local boats, have so thoroughly scoured northwest Africa’s ocean floor that major fish populations are collapsing

That has crippled coastal economies and added to the surge of illegal migrants who brave the high seas in wooden pirogues hoping to reach Europe. While reasons for immigration are as varied as fish species, Europe’s lure has clearly intensified as northwest Africa’s fish population has dwindled.

Last year roughly 31,000 Africans tried to reach the Canary Islands, a prime transit point to Europe, in more than 900 boats. About 6,000 died or disappeared, according to one estimate cited by the United Nations.


The region’s governments bear much of the blame for their fisheries’ decline. Many have allowed a desire for money from foreign fleets to override concern about the long-term health of their fisheries. Illegal fishermen are notoriously common; efforts to control fishing, rare.

But in the view of West African fishermen, Europe is having its fish and eating them, too. Their own waters largely fished out, European nations have steered their heavily subsidized fleets to Africa.

“As Europe has sought to manage its fisheries and to limit its fishing, what we’ve done is to export the overfishing problem elsewhere, particularly to Africa,” said Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, a research group.

Daniel Gomes, Guinea-Bissau’s 12th fishing minister in eight years, said he had tried to be conservative in how much access to grant foreigners, despite paltry scientific data and severe economic pressures.

Still, asked whether his nation would end up with empty waters, he replied: “This prospect is not out of the question. This could happen.”

Read more of Sharon Lafraniere’s excellent article in the IHT .

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