Monday, January 14, 2008

You don't say!


The New York Times offers a long, well written and unarguable feature today, under the heading: "Europe Takes Africa's Fish, and Migrants Follow".

The thesis is illustrated by detailed accounts of the precise effect of the EU's predatory "third country" fishing deals which are stripping African countries of one of their primary resources, forcing whole communities into poverty, thus triggering the wave of immigration into EU territory.

Yet we wrote about this first in this blog on 12 November 2004, when we noted that a report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), issued on 27 December 2001, which stated that, "Developing countries which open up their waters to foreign fishing fleets may lose far more than they gain". The report went on to note that over-exploitation resulting from such deals was "driving people into ever greater poverty" as well as "robbing the marine environment of a key link in the food chain".

When the issue came into the public domain, with the mass immigration into the Canaries in the spring and summer of 2006, we wrote about it several times, at some length. We started on 23 May 2006, followed up on 27 May 2006 and then in 1 June 2006 wrote, in effect, the definitive piece, offering our own prescription, with the simple injunction: "Stop stealing their fish". Then, before leaving the subject, we wrote a despairing piece on 31 August 2006 pointing out how the disaster was continuing.

There is only so much you can write about a subject before that sense of despair does take over and, in the same way that the cure to banging your head against a brick wall is to stop banging your head against the brick wall, we did stop writing about it. Perhaps we should not have done so.

However, now we see the New York Times writing. With its greater clout, maybe it will achieve something. But we doubt it. This was an issue in which I was actively engaged while at the EU parliament in 2000, it has been taken up by others – who were then also active – and is still being pursued actively by many campaigners.

The trouble is that time is running out. The NYT cites the experience of Sanji Fati, in charge of enforcing Guinea-Bissau’s fishing rules – where the EU predators are at their worst. When he took the job in 2005, he said, his agency did not have a single working patrol boat to monitor hundreds of pirogues and dozens of industrial trawlers, most of them foreign. An estimated 40 percent of fish were caught without licenses or in violation of regulations, and vessel operators routinely lied about their haul. Government observers were mostly illiterate, underpaid and easily bought off.

Mr Fati, we are told, tightened enforcement, but said he still felt as if he was waging a one-man war. A few months ago, he left in frustration. That bleak picture, adds the NYT, did not stop Guinea-Bissau and the European Union from agreeing last May to allow European boats to fish its waters for shrimp, fish, octopus and tuna. Over the next four years, the agreement will pump $42 million into a government that is months behind in paying salaries and still emerging from civil war.

The piece concludes with Daniel Gomes, Guinea-Bissau's 12th fishing minister in eight years. He says he had tried to be conservative in how much access to grant foreigners, despite paltry scientific data and severe economic pressures. Despite this, asked whether his nation would end up with empty waters, he replied: "This prospect is not out of the question. This could happen."

And, as long as we have a system of government dominated by the EU, which is making these deals in our name, using hundreds of millions of British taxpayers' money to finance them, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it – except welcome the displaced immigrants and pay again for their resettlement and the problems they bring.

That is what it has come to. This is the "brick wall" against which we beat our head.

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