Madagascar at mercy of neo-colonial fishing plunder

A UN human rights mission to Madagascar has alleged that European and Asian exploitation of the island’s fishing grounds is comparable to the pillage of African resources by 19th century imperialists.

“The seas are looted while fishing could be an engine of development for the island,” was the verdict of Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, at the conclusion of his official mission.

The UN expert examined why food insecurity affects 68% of people living in the south of the island, a region largely dependent on marine livelihoods because agriculture is unviable. “Madagascar today has one of the highest levels of child malnutrition in the world, with levels comparable to those of Afghanistan or Yemen,” warned De Schutter.

His report explains that 60,000 traditional fisherfolk find themselves in an unequal contest with foreign industrial fishing vessels. The fish are disappearing fast and a vital source of protein in the local diet is in decline.

The UN Special Rapporteur is critical of the European Union for the excessive profits squeezed out of its fishing agreements with Madagascar. He estimates that the country receives just 125 euros for each ton of catch, which the ship-owners can sell for 1,000 euros.

“This reflects the unequal resources of the parties to the fishing negotiations,” his report says. The winners are tuna processing interests from Spain, Portugal, Italy and France.

The alarmist sentiment of the UN Mission echoes the contents of a scientific paper published in May by the journal, Marine Policy under the title: “Unreported fishing, hungry people and political turmoil: the recipe for a food security crisis in Madagascar?” It explores in depth the sustainability of current fishing practices in the island’s waters.

Painting a picture of declining marine resources and rising tensions within coastal communities, the paper concludes that “sustainable small-scale fisheries can be viewed as a human-rights issue and should be given precedence over export-oriented commercial or foreign access fisheries.”

Researched by the Sea Around Us Project, a scientific collaboration between the University of British Columbia and the Pew Environment Group, the paper lays out its case that consistent under-reporting of fish catches has misled the government into over-generous agreements with foreign interests.

In addition, the current fragile current state of Madagascar’s governance is an open invitation to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The scientists point in particular to the insatiable demand for shark fin in the markets of Singapore and Hong Kong.

“A number of known illegal vessels, which previously targeted Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean, have been reported to have converted to shark fishing,” the paper asserts.

Last September, a Taiwan-registered long-line fishing boat was apprehended for illegal activity by one of Madagascar’s patrol vessels. Over 3 tons of shark fins were discovered on board, corresponding to 65 tons of shark.

This was a rare success for the island authorities, responsible for over 5,000 kilometers of coastline. “The monitoring and enforcement system in Madagascar is indeed only composed of 3 monitoring vessels, 8 speedboats, 18 inspectors and 22 observers,” laments the author of the scientific paper.

“One cannot possibly monitor 1 million square kilometers with half a dozen ships,” said Olivier De Schutter. He called on international donors to strengthen Madagascar’s enforcement capacity, for the sake of sustainability of the fishing grounds and the population’s fight against hunger.

The current global food security controversy known as “land-grabbing” was sparked in Madagascar in 2008. The South Korean company, Daewoo, came close to acquiring almost half of the country’s arable land at a knockdown price, potentially overriding the rights of local people.

Now it seems possible that the same country may coin the phrase “sea-grabbing”.


this article was first published in the OneWorld section of Yahoo World News