Who’s the sucker here: Kiribati, Mauritania, or the EU?

In many developing countries with large fish stocks most of the fishing is done by fleets from rich countries such as Japan, Spain, or The Netherlands. The EU has made a few new deals recently and they make interesting case studies.

On the EU’s latest deal with Kiribati (H/T Adam Baske):

Kiribati has secured a US$1.71 million deal for 15,000 tonnes of tuna per year with the European Union. Under the agreement, the EU is now able to deploy four purse seiner and six longline vessels in Kiribati’s waters.

There are many Pacific Island Nations making such deals. It’s a classical Prisoner’s Dilemma: if those countries stick together in the negotiations they could earn a lot more than if they go it alone. No wonder the Parties to the Nauru Agreement are not amused. Dr Transform Aqorau of the PNA comments:

“Kiribati could have generated an annual income of US$11.3 million from its agreement with the EU. But as I said, countries have their own reasons for doing what they do, but you have to wonder why in the face of great need by our people, we allow our natural resources to be sold short?”

On the other side of the globe Mauritania seems to have taken the other extreme. The Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reports (25 May 2013) that ever since Mauritania’s fishing deal with the European Union has come into force, hardly any European fishing vessel has entered Mauritanian waters. Fishing in Mauritania has become unprofitable for these vessels due to several restrictions, including the distance they are required to keep from the coast, the fee they are required to pay, and the number of Mauritanian workers they are required to hire.

European fishing in Mauritania’s waters is often portrayed as a hostile takeover of a poor African country’s resources by rich nations’ fishers, so you may be tempted to cry victory over Western imperialism. But this is no victory for Mauritania (my translation from Dutch):

According to Jedna Deida, a Mauritanian fisheries consultant, four thousand people in the port city of Nouadhibou have lost their jobs because the foreign fishing fleets stay away. A few thousand earned a living as crew. Many others worked in processing factories. “It’s a terrible situation, ” Deida says. “People can’t pay their children’s schools. It’s been like this for months.”

Many coastal (can I call Kiribati coastal?) developing countries struggle with the same question: should we allow foreign fishers in our waters? Under what conditions? Shouldn’t we develop our own fisheries? But what if we earn more from lucrative deals with big foreign vessels than from our own small-scale fleet?

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