“Marine protected areas (MPAs)” and “co-management’’ are buzzwords in current fisheries management. In South Florida, we are familiar with MPAs in the Florida Keys, which are closed to all fishing. Many of us are aware of the Federal Fisheries Management Councils, where fisheries regulations outside state waters are set.
Recently, I returned from a United Nations mission to Senegal. I was requested by the fisheries minister to review their efforts in these areas.
The fisheries off West Africa, like so much of the world, suffer from a history of over fishing.
As in the northeastern United States, this condition was caused by the entrance of large vessels from Europe and Asia. Senegal was one of the first countries in the region that refused to sign agreements to allow foreign fishing. But there are still illegal high seas vessels off Senegal.
Again, like in the northeastern U.S., Senegalese fishers themselves now do enough fishing to continue to depress the stocks. Fish exports are the leading source of foreign exchange, but at the cost of pricing, much of the fish is out of the reach of many Senegalese people. Yet these people depend on fish as their primary source of protein.
In an effort to reverse this situation, the Senegal Ministry for Maritime Affairs has authorized the use of marine-protected areas and community co-management efforts developed through their parks service, the World Wildlife Fund and World Bank projects in a comprehensive way to improve the conditions of the fisheries.
Senegal arranged though the U.N. for a mission that included me, a West African fisheries specialist with the U.N.’s fisheries division, and the former director of fisheries in Chile. We met with Senegalese scientists working on marine resources and fishing communities. We visited fishing communities to discuss local efforts with protected areas and involvement of those communities in developing local area fisheries management plans.
We visited three areas. One of them is next to a well-developed tourist area, with people from Europe flocking there as North Americans do to Caribbean Islands. The second place is a historical Senegalese agricultural trading and fishing town – the birthplace of Leopold Senghor, the first president and one of the intellectual founders of “Negritude,” or in English, the “Black consciousness” movement. Finally, the third area was a mangrove estuary similar to Florida Bay, with 14 isolated fishing villages scattered on the islands. Tourism in the park focused on recreational fishing and birding.
Every meeting opened with a prayer by the Imam from the local mosque. He prayed for success of the project and for harmony in the meeting.
Having participated in many similar meetings in the U.S., meetings that occasionally degenerated into acrimony, I appreciated the prayers. The leaders made presentations and then we asked questions.
We mixed three languages: English, French and Wolof. The latter, the language of the largest ethnic group in Senegal, has become the lingua franca for 80 percent of the population, many more than those who speak the official French.
My “tutti (little”) Wolof ‘’ was appreciated, and resulted in people paying close attention to my translated questions in English. Stay tuned for Part II of my Senegal adventure in an upcoming edition of the South Florida Times.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.