In the imbalance of power in Europe’s fishing deals with West African countries, locals get the short end of the stick.

West Africa’s waters are among the most plentiful fishing grounds in the world. Under governments eager to attract foreign investment, countries in the region have become the stage for an international gold rush in the fishing industry. European, Chinese and Russian companies all compete for its maritime resources.

Because European fishing quota are completely met, the European Commission maintains so-called Fishing Partnership Agreements (FPAs) with no less than eight countries in West Africa. The agreement with Mauritania is by far the biggest: since 1987 the EU has paid about 1,5 billion euros in access payments. The FPA combines commercial interests with development aid, resulting in a murky arrangement. 

In Mauritania, the past five years has seen the advent of an entirely new business: fish meal that is destined for aquaculture, chickens and pigs farms in Europe and Asia. In the port city of Nouadhibou alone, some 20 plants have opened, 15 other licences have been issued. These fish meal plants and foreign trawlers, Europeans among them, all target one species: the sardinella. According to marine scientists, it is overfished. And so are sharks — one of the ocean’s apex predators.

In the space of eight months, marine conservationists working to raise public awareness on the dangers of overfishing caught at least two European vessels, one from Spain and the other from Italy, with shark fins between 4 and 3600 kilos on board, a clear violation of European regulations protecting sharks. The two cases happened in Sierra Leone and Sao Tome and Principe. Months after the incidents, evidence suggests that Brussels is willing to look the other way in a bid to protect its interests abroad.

If overfishing is not addressed and stocks collapse, West Africans fear unemployed youths might yet again turn to migration towards Europe, precisely what the EU is investing in the region to stem.


Kolawole Talabi and Arthur Debruyne won 2018 Hostwriter's 2nd Story Prize for their collaboration on this project. 

Team members

Arthur Debruyne

Arthur Debruyne is Belgian independent journalist based in Mexico City.

Kolawole Talabi

Kolawole Talabi is an independent journalist from Nigeria. 

A grant of €5.000 granted in January 2016

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