Mauritania has accused foreign fleets of over-fishing in its territorial waters, jeopardizing their supply. To control the fishing, Mauritania set "biological rest periods" to allow the stocks to breed and proliferate. But the move didn't work, as the country's fisheries have continued to be over-exploited by foreign vessels without regard to the negative consequences.
Under the law, every September and October are off-limits to industrial fishing. But these two months that are supposed to be the fish reproduction period have witnessed an acceleration of foreign fleets operation in Mauritanian waters.
The resources, particularly the highly commercial cephalopod species, are becoming scarcer and this has led to stagnation in this sector.
Since the boost in cephalopod species fishing in the 1980s, Japanese and Europeans have been exploiting these products recklessly, hardly taking into account the authorized rate of catch, said Ahmed Ould Karami, a Mauritanian economist.
A killing of young species of under 500 grams, whose biological function is to perpetuate this wealth, complements this frantic exploitation. This insatiable passion is due to the fact that these species cost an average of $4,000 per ton on the market.
Furthermore, the rush for octopus, with its high commercial value, has seen a new category of shipowners such as the Chinese fishing along the country's coast.
Out of a 35,000-ton octopus potential, 20,000 tons are annually removed. This exerts excessive pressure on the stock to breed even though, presently, no statistics of stocks for other species is available.
Despite signs of abundance of certain species like the hake, there is need to be careful in their exploitation as well. In addition to the national shipping business composed of Chinese trawlers, Europeans who directly land their products in the Canary Islands port of Las Palmas, also have contributed to the precarious situation.
In these conditions, it is not surprising that the country's fishing industry is in crisis, as witnessed by a staggering fall of production.
This is bad for the Mauritanian economy since the industry represents more than 65 percent of the country's exports, which make up 40 percent of the national budget.
European ships also are over-fishing. In a 1996 agreement, Mauritania has conceded fishing licenses to the EU for at least 300 European ships, mostly Spanish. These fishing vessels have access rights, which put a lot of pressure on fisheries resources, thus destabilizing the precarious balance of the marine ecosystem.
The renewal of these agreements in July 2001 announced by the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, during a visit to Mauritania, will worsen matters, as Mauritania still hesitates to extend the breeding period to June and July. –(Albawaba-MEBG)
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