“Interview with Dr Moctar Bâ, former director of the National Oceanographic Research Centre of Mauritania, CNROP (currently IMROP), former director of the regional Project Fisheries Information and Analysis System (FIAS), currently consultant and member of various scientific and technical committees of west African research institutes.
Q: Bad fisheries management, in particular in ACP countries, is often cited as the reason for the overexploitation of fish resources…
A: It is true that currently, the state of fish resources is alarming. In ACP countries as in the other parts of the world, the policies adopted to control the exploitation of the marine ecosystems overall failed. And the results today are: the over-exploitation of fish stocks, the fleets’ over-capacity, the multiplication of conflicts between fleets and users for the exploitation of insufficient fish stocks, and increasingly aggressive illegal practices, which are also increasingly difficult to control. For ACP countries, it is often said that this failure results from the lack of means, but if this is really the reason for this policy failure, then how would we justify the similar failure in Northern countries, which have sufficient means? From my point of view, it’s not only the means that are lacking, but most importantly the vision and the political will. Currently, decision makers, as well as professional organisations, from North and South, privilege the short term, and as yet haven’t recognised the importance of measures for managing a natural resource. It seems that there needs to be a definite collapse of a resource, with its dire consequences, to push decision makers to act, as was the case for octopus in Mauritania.
Q: Do you think research has a responsibility in this bad management?
A: For me, the main objective of fisheries research should be to obtain relevant results of a high quality, in order to meet the needs for the rational management of the resources, and to ensure their conservation. And it is true that, considering the current situation of the resources, one can question the relevance, the efficiency and the usefulness of the scientific and technical opinions provided by the research. An Arab proverb says: ‘Cursed is the science which is not useful to humankind’. It is clear for me that researchers have to question the approaches they use….
Q: Which aspects of these approaches should be questioned?
A: There are many: are the structures and means available for fisheries research at ACP national, sub-regional and regional level adequate? Are the management units in use still relevant? Shouldn’t we try to better understand fishermen’s strategies in order to define more suitable units for management (with stocks and fishing components)? Can the negotiation of fishing agreements, control and monitoring, be facilitated by the adoption of better mechanisms for fisheries access regulation? Isn’t it necessary to undertake evaluation of impact studies about marine protected areas?
It should be stressed also that for scientists to give relevant opinions, there is an obvious precondition, which is often ignored: research programmes from which these opinions are derived should necessarily include elements that make it possible to carry out the analysis. What is at stake here is the relevance of the scientific programming, which cannot be done without a fine-tuned analysis of the sector. Another important question for researchers to raise is: shouldn’t there be a body in charge of defining the orientation of scientific programmes, where fisheries managers, from the countries and the sub-region, and professionals could participate, so that the managers can have in good time, and in adapted format, scientific opinions that match their needs?
Q: But, is it thinkable to re-examine research in that way at a time when many ACP research structures are facing difficult situations, because of the lack of means?
A: It is true that there is a lack of financial and human means in research, and where sometimes researchers may loose their motivation because of the lack of career opportunities. The capacities of the existing research structures in fields such as social, human, environmental and legal sciences are also inadequate. For example, the economic analyses currently undertaken are not derived from an approach that is capable of comparing the advantages and disadvantages of various resources exploitation patterns, with various fleets operating. There are also external factors which can affect research centres’ operations. For example, the financial problems of the Senegalese Oceanographic Research Centre of Dakar-Thiaroye (CRODT) were accentuated after 2006 and the non-renewal of the fisheries agreement with the EU, inasmuch as the compensation paid by the EU within the framework of the targeted actions of the fishing agreement 2002-2006 covered 90% of the operational budget of CRODT. But the financial problems are also due to the modesty of the public funding they receive from the state. This situation is an obstacle to the correct implementation of CRODT research activities. In addition, the brain drain, illustrated by the massive leaving of researchers to private organisations, had negative effects on the Centre’s operations. The number of CRODT researchers is falling: from 30 researchers in 1990, there remain only 7 today!
On a more positive note, we have to acknowledge what regional and international scientific co-operation can bring us. The evaluation of stocks at sub-regional level, the organisation of joint working groups, training seminars, exchange of experts has already contributed much to the development of the ACP national research capacities, and it is necessary to continue in this way.
This being said, for me, it is fully justified to grant more means for the improvement of fisheries research. After all, the scientific opinions and technical recommendations from the scientists provide the corner stone on which fisheries management is built. To have solid foundations, thanks to a relevant and effective research is not a luxury for ACP countries, where good fisheries management can bring important benefits in economic terms as well as in job creation.
Q: Let us come back to fisheries management: you insisted on the failure of fisheries management policies. Why is that?
A: Causes are numerous but, in general, their failure comes from the absence of a powerful and coherent access-regulation system, induced by a lack of hierarchy of the objectives and actions. You know, one cannot simultaneously maximise the economic turnover, the income of the fishermen, the profitability of the fleets, foreign currency earnings, the fisheries resource rent, etc. A compromise is essential, because, and this needs to be well understood, these various objectives are not achieved with the same level of resource exploitation.
A policy which prioritises value addition and job creation, rather than the resource rent, will be less effective for the country from a purely economic point of view. On the other hand, in seeking to maximise the fisheries resource rent, one would reach the biological objective classically required in fisheries management, because the level of exploitation making it possible to maximise the fisheries rent is under the level which maximises sustainable catches (MSY).
Until now, there has been little discussion amongst ACP countries about the ways in which the fisheries sector can contribute to macro-economic objectives and about how to prioritise the sectoral objectives according to the adopted policy priorities. Such debates are essential if we want to progress in terms towards sustainable fisheries.
Q: What should be the necessary steps for putting in place such sustainable fisheries management in ACP countries?
A: To better manage is to better understand. What is the way to follow? It’s not a secret: the first step is to elaborate a sectoral policy with clearly defined objectives, accompanied by a coherent strategy. Then the implementation comes: you need a legal framework to apply this strategy, as well as fisheries-management plans. These plans should be multi-annual, evolutionary, in order to guarantee some degree of stability for the exploitation whilst integrating the concept of sustainability. These management plans must also be consensual and get the support of the various actors and users of the resource. Today, we are, unfortunately, still far from there ….
If they want to set up a complete system of fisheries management, ACP countries must invest in what I call the ‘four pillars’: an integrated information system, a system to evaluate, to forecast and for bio-economic modelling; a system for allocating fishing authorisations and, finally, a surveillance system.
Q: One can easily conceive investments in systems for information, evaluation, surveillance but what do you mean by investing in a system for allocating fishing authorisations?
A: Regulation of access is the key issue in fisheries management. The resources that are in the ACP exclusive economic zones (EEZs) can greatly contribute to economic development, and to poverty alleviation. To preserve this potential, it is important that decision-makers understand better the importance of well-controlled access. Too often, decisions taken, particularly in granting fishing authorisations, are not very transparent and do not take into account the long term.
It also needs to be underlined that within the current institutional framework, ACP fisheries administrations do not take into account the value of the fishing rights they are allocating in a context of resource depletion and intensification of fishing operations. This explains why the allocation of fishing rights is done on a short-term basis, a method that is neither the most effective, nor the most equitable. From my point of view, as long as an appropriate strategy, supported by a strong political will, is not developed, it will be impossible to control effectively the access to the resource, and to reform fishing agreements to make them more equitable and compatible with the sustainable exploitation of the resources.
Q: Speaking about the fisheries agreements with the EU, should scientific co-operation be a priority?
A: Countries from the same region often share the same fisheries patterns: similarity of the resources, of the systems of production and markets, where scientific co-operation between the national research structures of a given region makes it possible to stimulate them through the exchange of knowledge and debate of ideas. Clearly these kinds of regional dynamics deserve the attention and support of our partners such as the EU.
A scientific analysis, provided by ACP researchers with the cooperation of EU experts, of the major fisheries-development and management issues would allow a better identification of management priorities. In this way, the relevance and the coherence of the ACP fisheries research would be reinforced.
Q: To conclude, which message do you want to give to the ACP countries?
A: I would like to tell them that what is at stake today is their capacity and the capacity of their EU partners to exploit ACP resources through a new form of win-win partnership, that puts the emphasis on solidarity and complementarity, based on sustaining biodiversity, ensuring that responsibilities are fairly shared, decisions taken are mutually beneficial, and are based on relevant scientific and technical opinion.”