The courageous steps taken by the Senegalese President to save his country's fisheries, livelihoods of local communities, and to ensure food security of the population, need to be strengthened and supported.
Foreign trawlers from Europe and Asia were emptying the country's fisheries, leaving local fishermen with empty nets and crippling Senegal's fishing economy. But President Sall's bold decision to cancel 29 fishing authorizations that were granted to foreign pelagic trawlers reversed the situation and gave hope to fishing communities.
Indeed, small pelagics fish species are essential resources in Senegal and in the West African sub-region: both fishing and processing employ thousands of people. Moreover, they are the primary source of protein for the most vulnerable populations.
President Sall's decision is still fragile and needs to be strengthened. Also, other countries in the West African region must make similar choices because we all share our ocean resources.
In response to this situation, several fisheries scientists across the world have called on President Macky Sall to keep enforcing his original decision, and to raise awareness amongst his peers in the region, so that they too can act for the good health of West African fisheries and in the best interests of their local communities.
On April 30th, 2012, your government wrote a new chapter in the history of the battle against a major threat to our oceans: the over-exploitation of fishing resources. Your courageous decision to terminate the activities of foreign pelagic trawlers in Senegalese waters was a very strong message heard around the world.
The importance of such an action can be measured in several ways:
In a socio-economic perspective, small pelagic stocks (for instance sardinellas -'Yaboy' -, maquerels... ) are the main resource exploited by local fishermen throughout the region and they represent a major source of both income and employment.
Processing (drying, smoking and salting) also provides income to thousands of people, especially to vulnerable groups, namely women. Disappearance of these fisheries would cause immeasurable political, economic and social consequences region wide.
In terms of food security, the importance of these resources is well established. Small pelagic stocks are, due to their affordable cost, the main source of animal protein for the West Africans, especially the poorest.
From an ecological point of view, this decision came at a time when all available scientific assessments in the region report the plight of small pelagic stocks.
It is clear that if nothing is done to in favour of the replenishment of these stocks, which are already overfished, we will be moving towards the inevitable collapse of these resources as well as all marine species to which they are connected along the food chain.
Accordingly, we urge you to maintain this decision for the health of Senegalese fisheries and wellbeing of communities who depend on them, at least until informed and independent scientific studies are able to prove that the stock is capable of supporting additional exploitation without jeopardizing either the resources or the activities of the local fishermen.
Finally, given the shared nature of these resources, the measures you have taken in Senegal will only yield results when awareness will be established throughout the region.
It is already shared by regional institutions such as the CECAF (Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic Fisheries) body put into place by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and CRSP (Sub-regional Fisheries Commission), whose recommendations regarding small pelagic stocks go in the same direction as yours.
Senegal has always demonstrated leadership when it comes to good governance of fisheries and contributed greatly in the mid- 70s to the implementation, hosting and facilitation of the commission which would later become CRSP.
Thus, we urge you to do whatever is in your reach to convince the other Heads of State of the region to take the same measures, and strengthen existing tools to ensure concerted action on a community level.
Dr Alassane Samba, Chercheur, ancien Directeur du CRODT, Sénégal
Dr Cheikhna Diebakaté, Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Sénégal
Dr. Alassane Sarr, UCAD, Sénégal
Dr. Papa Samba Diouf, WWF, Sénégal
Dr Ahmed Mahmoud Chérif, Mauritania
M. Kisekelwa Tchalondawa, PhD student at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Dr. Dirk F.E. Thys van den Audenaerde, KUL and Africa Museum, Belgium
Dr. Emmanuel Vreven, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium
Dr. Fabio Di Dario, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Dr. Flávia Lucena Frédou, UFRPE - Departamento do Pesca e Aquicultura, Brazil
Dr Daniel Pauly, University of British Columbia, Canada
Dr Rachid Sumaila, University of British Columbia, Nigeria/Canada
Dr Philippe Cury, Ifremer - IRD, France
Dr Jean Félicien Liwouwou, Institut de Recherches Agronomiques et Forestières, Gabon
Dr Jan Michael Vakily, Joint Research Center, Germany
Dr Dyhia Belhabib, Sea Around Us Project, University of British Columbia, Canada
Associate Professor Moenieba Isaacs, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of the Western Cape, South Africa