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Strengthening the Fight Against Illegal Fishing: The European Commission's Warning to Senegal and Its Implications for the Blue Economy in West Africa

The Context of the Warning

The European Commission's recent issuance of a "yellow card" to Senegal marks a significant step in the global fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This diplomatic warning underscores the European Union's (EU) commitment to sustainable fisheries and highlights the critical role of governance in the Blue Economy, particularly in West Africa. It is also not just a procedural step but a significant call to action, signalling the urgent need for collective stewardship of marine resources, which are fundamental to the Blue Economy in West Africa. On May 29, 2024, the European Commission formally warned Senegal over its insufficient actions to combat IUU fishing within its waters. This "yellow card" is not merely a symbolic gesture but a call to action for Senegal to intensify its efforts in regulating and monitoring fishing activities. The Commission's decision is based on a thorough assessment of Senegal's current measures and their effectiveness in addressing IUU fishing. The warning identifies severe shortcomings in Senegal's fisheries governance, particularly in monitoring, control, and surveillance systems, as well as the management of foreign fishing vessels.

The Implications of IUU Fishing

IUU fishing severely threatens marine ecosystems, local economies, and global fish stocks. It undermines efforts to manage fisheries sustainably and equitably, leading to overfishing, habitat destruction, and biodiversity loss. For countries like Senegal, where fishing is a vital part of the economy and a primary source of livelihood for many coastal communities, the impact of IUU fishing can be devastating. The economic implications of IUU fishing are profound. In Senegal, the fisheries sector is a critical economic driver, providing jobs for approximately 600,000 people and representing 3.2% of the country's GDP. However, IUU fishing activities result in significant financial losses. In 2012, Senegal lost $300 million, or 3.2% of its GDP, to IUU fishing. This loss affects the national economy and the livelihoods of local fishermen who rely on legal fishing activities. IUU fishing creates unfair competition, lowers market prices, and reduces the profitability of legal fishing operations, leading to job losses and economic instability.

The social consequences of IUU fishing are equally alarming. It undermines the livelihoods of law-abiding fishers and coastal communities dependent on marine resources. In West Africa, an estimated 6.7 million people depend directly on fishing for their livelihoods, and their well-being is threatened by IUU fishing by foreign fleets. The depletion of fish populations reduces the availability of fish as a food source, affecting food security, particularly in developing countries where fish is a primary source of protein for millions of people. In Senegal, these activities remain rampant despite considerable efforts to combat IUU fishing, including the adoption of new laws and the development of a national action plan. The need for more information and capacities to detect linkages between Senegal-based companies and regional fishing operations further diminishes the country's ability to fight IUU fishing effectively.

The Role of the European Commission

The EU has taken a leading role in the global fight against IUU fishing through its comprehensive IUU Regulation, which came into effect in 2010. This regulation is designed to prevent illegally caught fish from entering the EU market and includes a catch certification scheme, a process for engaging with non-EU countries, and penalties for EU nationals involved in IUU fishing activities. The Commission has been proactive in implementing the IUU Regulation, investigating over 200 cases involving vessels from 27 countries since 2010. This has led to sanctions against nearly 50 boats and the imposition of fines amounting to approximately €8 million by flag and coastal states. The Commission has also facilitated legislative and administrative reforms in several third countries to improve catch certification and fleet monitoring, demonstrating the effectiveness of international cooperation in combating IUU fishing.

The "carding" system, a vital component of the IUU Regulation, enables the EU to engage in dialogue with non-EU countries assessed as not effectively combating IUU fishing. This process involves issuing warnings, known as "yellow cards," to countries that need to improve their legal frameworks and practices related to IUU fishing. If a country fails to implement the required reforms within a specified timeframe, the Commission can escalate the situation by issuing a "red card," which can lead to trade sanctions, including a ban on importing fishery products from that country. Conversely, if a country successfully addresses the issues raised, it can be "delisted" and have its yellow card withdrawn. The yellow card mechanism is part of the EU's IUU Regulation, which aims to prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal fishing. Countries that fail to comply with the EU's standards may face trade sanctions, including a ban on seafood exports to the EU market. This regulatory framework protects the EU's market from illegally sourced fish and incentivizes third countries to improve their fisheries management practices.


Senegal's Response and the Path Forward

Senegal is poised to make significant strides in enhancing its fisheries governance in response to the 'yellow card' warning. One of the key areas of focus is the enhancement of its MCS systems, which are instrumental in detecting and deterring IUU fishing activities. The Senegalese government has already initiated several measures to strengthen its MCS capabilities, such as publishing the list of vessels authorized to fish in Senegal's national waters. This move towards transparency and better monitoring is a significant step. The list, which includes 151 vessels, comprising 132 national and 19 foreign ships, is part of the new government's commitment to managing public resources transparently. The government is also working on strengthening the Maritime Fishing Code to combat illegal fishing activities more effectively, including an inventory and evaluation of state intervention, subsidies, and funding in the fisheries sector, and prioritizing the renewal and security of the artisanal fishing fleet.

To address the shortcomings identified by the European Commission, Senegal is also focusing on strengthening its legal frameworks. Adopting new laws and developing a national action plan to combat IUU fishing are critical components of this effort. The national action plan, validated in 2015, aims to provide a comprehensive strategy for tackling IUU fishing through legislative reforms and operational actions. The government has also endorsed a National Strategy and Action Plan, formulated in a consultative process, to align with international obligations and improve the effectiveness of its MCS system. This strategy includes the implementation of the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) and other complementary international instruments and regional mechanisms to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing.

The Senegalese government has shown a solid commitment to collaborating with international partners, including the EU, to address the challenges of IUU fishing. This commitment was evident during a national workshop co-chaired by Blue Ventures and the Ministry of Fisheries, where stakeholders from various sectors came together to find standard solutions to the crisis in fisheries. The willingness of the Senegalese authorities to work with civil society, religious leaders, and artisanal fishers is a positive sign of their dedication to sustainable fisheries management. The efforts to combat IUU fishing in Senegal are expected to have a positive impact not only within the country but also in the broader West African region. Strengthened institutional capacities, increased transparency, and enhanced cooperation with international actors like the EU will contribute to the sustainable use of marine resources and the development of the Blue Economy. These measures will also help reduce poverty, achieve food security, and promote sustained economic growth and consumption.


The broader impact of these efforts on the Blue Economy in West Africa cannot be overstated. The Blue Economy emphasizes the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and job creation, all while preserving the health of ocean ecosystems. With its rich marine biodiversity and significant fisheries resources, West Africa holds immense potential to develop a thriving Blue Economy. However, the prevalence of IUU fishing in the region poses a substantial barrier to realizing this potential.

The European Commission's actions in issuing Senegal the yellow card underscore the importance of international cooperation and strong governance in promoting a sustainable Blue Economy. By holding countries accountable and encouraging them to adopt better practices, the EU is playing a crucial role in fostering a more sustainable and equitable future for the region's fisheries. Through these concerted efforts, Senegal and its neighbours can work towards a future where marine resources are managed sustainably, benefiting both the environment and the people who depend on it.

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