The report draws on research by Dr Arthur Neiland and Dr William Emerson of the UK government-funded Sustainable Fisheries Livelihoods Programme (SFLP). It will be presented to the BA Festival of Science on September 6 by SFLP policy adviser Dr Edward Allison, of UEA’s School of Development Studies.
Drawing together recent studies of the global fish trade’s impact on developing economies, Dr Allison concludes that far from taking high-quality food from the mouths of the poor, exports to the West are both morally justifiable and economically sensible because the revenues they generate can improve local food security and boost the domestic economies.
“Our work on the seafood trade between Europe and West Africa reveals that, in general, trade does not decrease food security,” said Dr Allison.
“This is because the fish that are traded internationally are generally higher-value species, such as tuna, hake, sole, shellfish, octopus and squid, which would have been destined for luxury urban markets anyway, rather than being an important part of the diets of the poor and food-insecure.”
Fish are the most traded of all agricultural commodities and, valued at $71 billion per year, their trade is worth more than the whole coffee, tea and sugar trades put together. There is a net flow of fish from developing countries to the developed world and sometimes poor countries sell the rights to their fish to wealthy European countries whose own fishing fleets have already depleted waters closer to home. At first glance, this is another example of rich countries exploiting the resources of the poor, and indeed, this is the way the trade is often portrayed - for example in the Oscar-nominated documentary film on Lake Victoria’s fish trade, Darwin’s Nightmare.
However, for developing countries in regions such as West Africa, fish exports to Western markets, especially in Europe, are a major source of foreign exchange revenue. The fish export trade also helps to underpin the operation of domestic fisheries, which provide a basis for the livelihoods and employment of thousands of local people, mainly in coastal regions.
The export trade from West Africa is dominated by four countries – Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Mauritania – and the bulk of the fish exported is high value species such as prawns, tuna and squid. Their export does not affect the availability of the lower-value species that are important in the diet of the domestic poor, including sardines, anchovies, and freshwater species like catfish and tilapia. (Of more concern is the growing export trade in lower-value species from West-African waters, mainly to markets in the Far-East, with China emerging as a major buyer.)
Though the export of fish from developing countries doesn’t necessarily lead to its shortage in domestic markets, Dr Allison stressed that there were still legitimate concerns that global demand, coupled with weak fisheries management, could compromise the sustainability of fishing in African waters. There were also worries that traditional, small-scale fisherfolk and fish traders could be displaced by the global seafood trade.
The Sustainable Fisheries Livelihoods Programme (SFLP) is implemented by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in partnership with the governments and fishing communities of 25 West and Central African countries. This study of the fish trade forms part of a series of policy briefs on ‘New Directions in Fisheries’, conceived and edited by FAO’s Benoit Horemans and UEA’s Dr Edward Allison.
Dr Allison’s research will be presented as part of Should I eat fish? – an event at the BA Festival of Science on Wednesday September 6 from 2-5pm in the Elizabeth Fry Building, room 01.02.
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