The environmental group Greenpeace is opposing a 25-year lease for Chinese fishing rights in Mauritanian waters.
The Chinese firm Poly Hon Done Pelagic Fishery has signed an offshore fishing license with the Mauritanian government that includes a $100 million investment in a new processing factory, training center, and manufacturing site for traditional fishing boats.
Mohamed Ould Hafedh Ould Ejiwen, the director of programs and cooperation at Mauritania's Ministry of Fishing, says the deal will create more than 2,000 jobs.
Ejiwen says the advantages of the agreement including promoting migratory, surface species of fish, creating jobs, and setting up a pilot project for investors in Mauritania.
Ejiwen says between 80,000 and 100,000 metric tons of Chinese-caught fish will be unloaded in Mauritania and exported as Mauritanian products. The boats will fly the Mauritanian flag, so it is a Mauritanian company. Ejiwen says interested European investors would get at least the same benefits as the new Chinese-backed company.
Opposition lawmakers walked out of parliament during the vote approving the deal, saying it has too few benefits for the Mauritanian people and was negotiated without adequate transparency.
Chekhany Ould Amar, the vice president of Mauritania's National Fishing Federation, says the deal threatens the livelihoods of as many as 40,000 local fisherman whose small boats can not compete with Chinese trawlers.
Amar says the new Chinese fleet is unfair competition that threatens Mauritanian fishermen because it reduces the number of fish available and dominates the Mauritanian fishing industry, even to the detriment of other foreign investors, including Chinese companies, some of which have been operating in Mauritania for three decades.
Oumy Sene Diouf is an Africa ocean campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace. She says the 25-year length of the lease is alarming given the state of fish stocks in West Africa.
“We have to be careful in any convention that our countries in West Africa, in the region, enter into. For example, in Senegal there is not enough fish for Senegalese and Senegal takes some of its fish from Mauritania. There is a cautionary approach to be taken here,” Diouf noted.
She says Mauritania should scrap the Chinese fishing deal without delay.
“We see everywhere that overfishing is a problem for the region," Diouf said. "So before giving rights to the Chinese, maybe we should solve the issue in among ourselves first and make sure that the food security of the population of West Africa is not threatened. Because today that is what is at stake.”
The European Union is already paying Nouakchott about $100 million a year for fishing rights in some of West Africa's richest fishing waters. Fish account for about half of Mauritania's export earnings.