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EU fishing 'drives bushmeat trade'

By Alex Kirby
Environment correspondent

BBC News Online

29th May 2003

Lack of fish "means the hunt turns to meat"

Africa's bushmeat trade, which is forcing several rare species towards extinction, is fuelled by European Union policy, a leading British scientist says.

The accusation comes from Professor John Lawton, who heads the UK's Natural Environment Research Council.

He says European and other foreign fleets are emptying the seas off West Africa.

The consequence is hungry people turning from the sea to the forests to find protein.

Professor Lawton told BBC News Online: "The evidence is beginning to stack up that artisanal fishing off the coast of countries like Senegal is collapsing, it's finding virtually nothing to catch.

"The European boats are active there - they're catching fish further offshore and taking them out of the system, so there's nothing left for the local boats.

Reforms begun

"The European Union has exported its excess fishing
capacity to West Africa, and indirectly it's fuelling the
bushmeat trade, which is devastating the forests
- together with South Korea and Japan."

Campaigners estimate about a million tonnes of meat
leave equatorial Africa every year, putting unsustainable
pressure on apes and other endangered species.

Highly endangered species are at growing risk

The European Commission says it wants to "move from access agreements to 'partnership agreements' which contribute to responsible fishing" in its own interest and that of countries like Senegal.

In December 2002 Franz Fischler, the European Fisheries Commissioner, said: the commission aimed "to contribute to the sustainable development of world fisheries and to ensure sustainable and responsible fisheries beyond EU waters as well as within".

The commission says it takes only Senegal's surplus fish: from 1997 to 2001, it says, its catches in Senegalese waters represented only 1.7-3.3% of the total.

Professor Lawton was speaking at a London conference on Coastal zones in sub-Saharan Africa, organised by the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea (Acops) and other agencies.

With 40% of Africa's people living in coastal zones, millions of people are vulnerable to changes taking place far inland.

Mountain threat

Another participant, the Kenyan environment minister,
Dr Newton Kulundu, said his "number one priority"
was restoring forest cover to his country.
At independence in 1963, 14.5% of Kenya was tree-covered.
Today the figure is 1.7%, and soil washing off deforested
mountainsides in the interior is choking mangroves on the coast.

A million tonnes of meat a year are involved

Dr Kulundu told BBC News Online: "It is a huge job. To restore forest cover to 8% of Kenya means we'll have to plant 80 million seedlings every year for the next five years.

"We're using indigenous species in water catchment sites, and fast-growing ones in plantations.

Self-help catches on

"We've made a good start - we've planted 15m seedlings since March. People are very enthusiastic: they want to reclaim the 300,000 hectares (741,000 acres) of forest given away illegally by previous regimes."

The conference, which brought together scientists and policymakers, was held to support Nepad, the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

Acops' chairman, Lord Hunt, said Nepad was emerging as "not a club for heads of state, but a movement stimulating a self-help attitude that's reaching right down to community groups".