Fishing and fishmeal production in Mauritania: Vulnerability of small-scale fishermen of Saint Louis and threat to food security in West Africa?

Abstract: Aquaculture is often seen as the saviour in terms of enhancing protein production for a growing world population and to the capture fishery sustainability crisis. However, species like salmon and shrimp need a lot of fishmeal and fishoil for their production, produced from capture fisheries. This paper, based on intensive fieldwork in Senegal and Mauritania during 2021 and 2022, looks at the boom and bust of small scale pelagic fisheries in Saint Louis, located on the Senegalese-Mauritanian border. During the last 15 years this Senegalese fishery mainly provided input for the Mauritania-based fishmeal and fishoil industry. However, since 2017 the activities of Senegalese fishers have declined constantly. This rather short business cycle cannot be described as being sustainable, nor did it solve any food and nutritional insecurity problems existing in Senegal. Rather the opposite, the process might be described as nutrient and capital grabbing. The paper describes, first, the nutrient flows out of region, due to the emergence of the fish meal industry. Second, it analyses the changes that have taken place in the contractual arrangements of Saint Louis pelagic fisheries, to understand the capital grabbing observed. It started with the early arrival of the first purse seiners in the 1970s. They were independent artisanal fishers, owning their boats, being wealthy people and leading the supply chain. Their wealth was built on abundant resources, in territory, including that which now has become Mauritanian waters. The fleet has exploded to various hundreds of purse seiners, who are mostly financed through international capital and who used to feed the Mauritanian, largely Chinese owned, fish meal industry, before fish stock started to decline. The previously independent sector has become highly indebted and patron client relationships are the norm. The paper describes this complex process and aims to deepen understanding using theories of institutional change.

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