Les pêcheurs migrants sénégalais: réfugiés climatiques et écologiques = The migrant fishermen Senegalese refugees: climatic and ecological

Pierre Failler, Thomas Binet

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Abstract

The fisheries sector in West African countries is of paramount importance as a critical source of economic, social, environmental and cultural value for West Africa’s growing population of almost 300 million people: fisheries can represent up to 15% of national GDP and up to 30% of export revenues, employs around 7 million and provides up to 50% of total animal protein intake of the region’s population while sustaining local livelihoods for coastal communities (OECD, 2008). More than 70% of the fish production in the region comes from artisanal fishers, Senegalese and Ghanaian fishers being the most active groups along the regional coastline, from Mauritania to Sierra Leone. The predominance of these migratory fisheries in the 7 members States of the Sub-Regional Fishery Commission is made possible through a generalized practice of long-distance fishing migrations (Haakonsen, 1991). Yet by 2000, signs indicating the regional depletion of the main fish stocks had become more pronounced, while the region serves growing global demand one the one hand and tries to develop an economically viable fisheries sector at home on the second hand. This begs the question as to how long would fish resources be able to sustain intensive small-scale fishing and especially activities of migratory Senegalese fishers and others? The limited attempts to date by national authorities to control this phenomenon (including, for instance, the limitation of fishing licenses given to foreign fishers), are undermined by both fishers circumventing these controls – and the limited enforcement capability of the authorities over such large marine areas. As a result, while migrants continue to operate furtively and far from capitals, this phenomenon of fisher migration, which has long remained unknown or ignored, has gained interests among national policymakers from West African countries. But isn’t it too late for undertaking action? This article aims to provide a review of the evolution of migratory processes by small-scale fishers along the coasts of West Africa over the past and more especially over the last three decades. The paper also intends to give some further evidence on the need for strong action to take place in fisheries management, while migration – migrations of Senegalese fishers in the first instance -has led West African waters to a generalized depletion of fish stocks. The first section of the paper documents the development of the artisanal fisheries sector over the past and why fishing migrations have thrived since the 1970’s. . In the second part we link the development of fisheries to fisher migrational trends and how migrations have modified to adapt to the overexploitation of fish stocks. The third part presents the migration trends and gives further information on Senegalese migrants’ strategies. The fourth part exposes the reasons why West African fisheries have reached an ecological and social deadlock. The article concludes by first providing the vision from authors on the future of migrations and the alternatives for migrant fishers and second suggesting some tracks for actions from policymakers towards the recognition of the importance of fishing migrations, the role of regional cooperation and the integration of migration issues within conservation projects. The choice was made in this paper to focus on the Senegalese fishers. These are, along with Ghanaian fishers, the most important in terms of both the magnitude involved, and the diversity of same. It is estimated that over 15 000 fishers (30% of the total national labour force in the sector) have left their homes and sailed into foreign waters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-111
Number of pages14
JournalHommes & Migrations - Migrations et environnement
Issue number1284
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010

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