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Funded marine projects pave the way for sustainable fishing in West Africa

Over the last three years the Marine Stewardship Council has been supporting fisheries in West Africa on their journey towards sustainability, thanks to a multi-stakeholder effort and committed funder. Now, these fisheries are preparing to act.

The West African Atlantic fisheries are among the world's most productive. Fish contribute up to two thirds of West African animal protein consumption. However, this is increasingly threatened by high fishing pressure, unsustainable management practices, and high levels of post-harvest losses.

Combine these factors with financial limitations and a lack of affordable training and expertise, sustainability can be almost impossible to reach.

In March 2018, international not-for-profit organisation Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) joined forces with multiple partners to initiate two projects dedicated to enabling and supporting sustainable fishing across several West African countries. Funded by Swiss philanthropic organisation, the MAVA Foundation (MAVA), these projects have resulted in 12 fisheries now entering the next stage of their journey as they develop fishery improvement action plans.

A need to preserve West African fish stocks

The countries of West Africa, from Mauritania to Guinea-Bissau, are endowed with some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. The marine fish stocks in the Canary Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME) constitute a significant natural capital asset for these countries. 

The fishery sector is an important contributor to economic productivity. The estimated wholesale value of fish legally captured in West Africa is US$ 2.5 billion per year1, driven mostly by marine artisanal fisheries. In Senegal, fisheries are the leading sector for export, generating an estimated US$ 350 million per year2.

However, the natural wealth of West African fisheries is being depleted at an alarming rate. Available information suggests that rising production in the region have led to maximum exploitation levels being met or exceeded for most of the region’s commercially important fish stocks. Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing is rampant; by some estimates it represents nearly a third of the total harvest3. 

The World Bank estimates that an additional US$ 300 million in direct annual income could be created in West Africa through improved governance and management of fisheries and marine ecosystems, as well as greater local investment4.

Two goals, one Standard

Governments and businesses alike recognise the need to sustainably manage marine resources. The MSC with its credible environmental standard, the MSC Fisheries Standard, alongside key project partners, supports West African fisheries through:

  • A project coordinated by RAMPAO, the 'Sustainable Exploitation of small pelagic in MPAs and other protected areas in West Africa' (PPAMP), aims to build capacity for improved fisheries management, particularly to reduce overexploitation of small pelagic fisheries interacting with marine protected areas (MPAs) across Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. 
  • A second project initiated alongside financial solutions specialist, Clarmondial, 'Leading West African Fisheries toward sustainable fishing practices' (LEAD), aims to understand technical and financial obstacles preventing North-West African fisheries from improving their management practices towards optimised environmental performance. LEAD engages with eight fisheries located in Cape Verde, Mauritania, Senegal, and The Gambia, ranging from larger commercially important to artisanal fleets.  
Both projects use the MSC Fisheries Standard as a reference to drive improvements in the management and governance of West African fisheries to deliver measurable environmental benefits. Such benefits may include increased stocks, improved management measures, reduced bycatch, better control and monitoring of fishing activities, and increased knowledge about ecosystem impacts among stakeholders in fishery value chains. 

Supporting the transition to sustainable fishing

These projects are two of many occurring around the world. They form a part of the MSC's wider Pathway to Sustainability program, which offers a range of tools to help fisheries improve the environmental performance of their fishing practices. Beginning with comprehensive analysis of fisheries and their environments – benchmarked and pre-assessed against the MSC Fisheries Standard – pathway projects provide fishing operators and management bodies a roadmap to sustainability. 

Eight fisheries from the LEAD project, and four from PPAMP, have each undergone MSC pre-assessments to identify where they need to make improvements. In June of this year, MRAG Ltd was appointed to lead the formulation of action plans for the 12 pre-assessed fisheries; individual fishery ‘to-do lists’ for optimised ecological performance and fisheries management. For LEAD, the action plans also help inform the design of dedicated financing mechanisms to support West African fisheries’ transition to sustainable management practices.

Further, the MSC’s ‘pathway tools’ also help governments, industry and other stakeholders understand the problem and potential solutions, so they too can support fisheries to improve their practices. Through these MAVA funded projects, MSC ‘Level 1’ and ‘Level 2’ capacity building training has been conducted for 165 experts across universities, research institutions, fisheries administration and more. With a set of training workshops still in the pipeline for the remainder of 2021, the MSC aims to create a pool of regional experts able to assess and advice fisheries and the bodies in charge of coastal management.

Ibrahima Niamadio of the Marine Stewardship Council’s West African team said:

“The fisheries engaged in these two projects, particularly small pelagics, are a major contributor to West Africa exports and deliver great socio-economic benefit to the local fishing communities. 

Our fisheries face many pressures such as limited fisheries management and governance, IUU and climate change. The need for sustainable fishing has never been so important for our small pelagic fisheries. We want to make sure that all fisheries in West Africa, regardless of size and location, can use the MSC Fisheries Standard as a guide to operate sustainably.

Multi-fishery improvement initiatives require a multi-stakeholder approach and we’re really pleased to be working alongside the local governments, fishers, industry and private project partners.”

The Marine Stewardship Council’s Senior Fisheries Program Manager for Pathways and Small Pelagics, Carlos Montero Castaño, added: 

"MSC certification is not necessarily the only end goal for these projects. Our purpose is to build a solid basis in the West African region to generate proper knowledge and incentive to help fisheries management transition towards sustainability, and understand the financial challenges this transition implies.

"Our strategy is to work with governments to support their efforts to improve the management practices of these fisheries through our tools and models. The MSC's Fisheries Standard is a very strong tool used by both the LEAD and PPAMP projects to identify the environmental challenges of the fisheries, and to plan improvements to overcome their sustainability barriers.

"Raising funds is, and will be, critical to support these fisheries on their journey towards sustainability and potential certification. We expect that some of these fisheries may be in the position to apply for the In-transition to MSC (ITM) program at the end of the current phase of the projects."

The MSC expects the impact of these regional projects will contribute to the local delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water. The MSC is committed to helping fisheries in developing regions, with an ambition for more than a third of global marine catch to be engaged with the program by 2030.

Read more about the MSC’s Pathway to Sustainability projects