Who gains from Euro-African fishing agreements?

A report issued by the European Court of Auditors on separate fishing agreements concluded between the EC and Madagascar, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal and Seychelles revealed that the ratio of the total cost paid by the EC compared to the value of catches differs significantly in each country. The report showed that Senegal and Morocco received the most compensation from the EC while Mozambique received the least.
Who benefits more from the fisheries agreements concluded between the European Community (EC) and the coastal countries of Africa? Some indications are provided in the latest report of the European Court of Auditors, which sheds light on the situation in five African countries: Madagascar, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal and Seychelles.


The first conclusion which can be drawn is that the ratio of the total cost paid by the EC compared to the value of the catches varies considerably from one country to another. Why?

During the two years of the 1990-92 protocol, Senegal received Ecu33.7m (now equivalent to $37.5m) from the EC, including financial compensation of Ecu30m coming from the EC budget and a sum of Ecu3.7m from European ship-owners corresponding to a fee of Ecu20 per tonne of tuna fished.

This agreement allowed trawlers up to a total capacity of 30,600 dead-weight tonnes (dwt) to catch the equivalent of Ecu75m worth of fish, about double the amount which Senegal earned from the protocol.

The court also observes that the three-year 1989-92 protocol between the EC and Madagascar allowed 45 European tuna vessels to operate in Malagasy waters for a maximum catch of 12,000 tonnes par year. (This figure represents the maximum tonnage allowed by the protocol; however, if after a fisheries campaign the real amount of fish caught is higher, the financial compensation paid by the EC is increased in proportion. But, in general, the quantity is calculated to avoid overexploitation and should not be exceeded.)

In return, Madagascar received Ecu3.1m, out of which Ecu2.9m was as financial compensation for fishing rights, paid by the EC. Since the value of catches was estimated by the court to be Ecu12m, Madagascar earned from its agreement only one-quarter of this amount.

The ratio is even smaller in the case of Seychelles. Indeed, during the 1990-93 period, this country earned about Ecu12m from its agreement with the EC, out of which Ecu9.9m was as financial compensation from the European budget. But the total catch is estimated by the court at Ecu67m. In other words, Seychelles earned 18% of the value of the catches made in its waters by European fishing fleets.

The explanation for the wide gaps lies in the utilisation by the shipowners of the possibilities offered to them by the financial compensation disbursed by the EC. The amount of this compensation varies considerably from one country to another. The court estimates indeed that only 45% of the potential allowed by the EC-Senegal pact was used by the European fishing fleet, in terms of the tonnage of fish and the licences requested for the fishing fleet to operate. This proportion varies according to the species of fish and ranges from 50% to 70% in neighbouring Mauritania. It rises to 75% in the case of Seychelles and reaches 87% in Madagascar and Morocco.

Which countries, then, have made the best use of their bargaining power? Confronted with this situation, the EC has naturally tried to renegotiate the terms of the agreements when they expire. However, the figures released by the court show that even when situations are similar, the African states use their bargaining power more or less efficiently, according to the cases cited.

Catches were within the maximum allowed by the agreements in all five countries. In the case of Mauritania, the EC, in its answer to the court, admits that according to documents in its possession, the underutilisation of the fishing potential by the European fleet might result from the depletion of stocks, because of overexploitation. Since the volume of the catch had to be revised downward under the new agreement, covering the period from 1 August 1993 to 31 July 1996, the level of financial compensation was reduced from Ecu29m in the preceding agreement to Ecu26m in this one. Likewise, the current EC-Madagascar agreement shows a reduction in its financial compensation, to Ecu2.1m from Ecu2.9m, owing to a reduction in the allowable tuna catch from 12,000 tonnes to 9,000t.

In Seychelles, the government managed to avoid a cut in its financial compensation, which remains unchanged at Ecu9.9m. The figure stood firm despite the fact that the 40 European fishing boats allowed to operate simultaneously in Seychellois waters did not use their licences entirely. But if the EC had insisted on cutting the compensation level, Seychelles would not have signed the new agreement, and the European tuna-fishing fleet would have lost its main operating base in the region, the port of Victoria, on Mahe island.


(Ecu thousand)

Morocco 113,300
Greenland 34,300
Senegal 16,000
Angola 9,600
Mauritania 9,400
Guinea 7,100
Guinea-Bissau 7,000
Cote d’Ivoire 4,200
The Gambia 1,300
Sao Tome e Principe 900
Seychelles 900
Cape Verde 800
Sweden 800
Comoros 600
Madagascar 500
Mozambique 500
Mauritius 400
Equatorial Guinea 200

Source: EC
Morocco and Senegal came out even better. Morocco obtained a 45% increase in its financial compensation, to Ecu408m, despite a reduction in the permissible trawler tonnage from 95,634 dwt to 82,290 dwt in the new agreement. The number of tuna-fishing boats allowed to operate rose from 20 to 28. The court even pointed out that the sizeable increase of the financial compensation paid to Morocco “could not be justified by the total level of fishing possibilities” offered in the new agreement. In other words, the Rabat government was able to improve the terms of the fisheries agreement by persuading the EC to take other elements into account; it used its bargaining power very effectively.

Paradoxically, Senegal, despite a reduction in the allowable European tuna-fishing fleet from 103 to 79 vessels, managed an increase in its compensation level from Ecu30m to Ecu32m.

In its reply to the court, the European Commission acknowledged that the Senegalese are tough negotiators. It admitted that it was forced to accept the terms imposed by the Senegalese because the EC was “confronted with the absolute refusal of the Senegalese authorities to envisage a reduction of the financial compensation and because of the importance of the Senegalese EEZ for the Community shipowners”.

There is no doubt that the Namibian authorities are following the evolution of EC fishing agreements closely and that they will take into account all these elements when they define their own negotiating strategy in due course.

Indeed, the EC, under pressure from Spanish shipowners, is pushing the Windhoek government hard for an agreement.

Negotiations broke down in 1991 because the Europeans were not satisfied with the size of the catch Namibia was prepared to allow the Spanish fishing fleets to take from its waters.

Things might change now that stocks are recovering well, a Namibian diplomat told AB.

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