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Industrial sea overfishing, Mauritania

Mauritania's 750-km rich coastline hosts an exclusive economic zone, exploited by many actors engaging in legal and illegal fishing practices. Overfishing is supported by EU neocolonial policies and a new Chinese presence.


Mauritania has long existed as a rentier state supported from the external revenues gained from mining, fishing, petroleum, and international aid (Magrin et al. 2011). As the majority of Mauritania is permanent pasture (38.1%), the country’s majority population of Berber and Arab nomads had in the early colonial times based their economy upon the Saharan salt trade. More recent development has resulted in an expansion of oil, natural gas and mineral (iron ore, gold, copper, gypsum, and phosphate rock) extraction, which provide 13% to 30% of total state revenue (2006-2016), according to the CIA World Factbook (2017). Yet despite the richness, the strongest driver of the economy for purposes of local consumption and exports is fish. Mauritania's coast is a high biological productivity coastal upwelling region. The Mauritanian coast possesses high levels of biodiversity, promoting a burgeoning fishing trade, most of which is required by law to be sold through the state managed Société Mauritanienne de la Commercialisation de Poissons (SMCP). The country’s coasts are among the richest fishing areas in the world, and fishing accounts for 25% of budget revenues and GNP, 50% of foreign currency earnings, with 70% of the 100,000 tons of annual production exported yearly (Magrin et al. 2011).  Fishing, in turn, generates 45,000 jobs accounting for 36% of all employment. However, due to policy failures on the part of the Mauritanian government, overfishing is threatening the Mauritania’s coastal biodiversity and the fishing livelihood of the people who depend upon it.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Industrial sea overfishing, Mauritania
State or province:Dakhlet Nouâhibou
Location of conflict:Bank of Arguin National Park
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Shrimps
Live Animals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Mauritania’s government has taken several steps to bring more sustainability and transparency to its fishing partnerships. One example was the adoption of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI), which aims to eliminate the reliance on more secretive fishing contracts that are more likely to contribute to overfishing. In turn, several agreements have been made with the EU require fishing companies to follow EU policies, which potentially could set up a more protective legal framework, while giving European vessels access to the abundant fishing zones on a payment for access basis.

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Project area:1,200
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1,260,000 (36% of the population)
Start of the conflict:01/06/2010
Company names or state enterprises:SCAC Network LImited (SCAC) from China
Relevant government actors:Société Mauritanienne de la Commercialisation de Poissons (SMCP)
National Park of the Bank of Arguin (PNBA)
International and Finance InstitutionsEuropean Union (EU)
UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from France
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace
Parc National du Banc d'Arguin - (
Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) -(
Wetlands International (Dakar Office) - (
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Imraguen ethnic group
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsShark fishing for fins, and many other threats to marine biodiversity because of industrial overfishing
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Strengthening of participation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Developing Eco-tourism: "The WOW project helped build local capacity for ornithological ecotourism within Banc d’Arguin National Park. Capitalising on the emerging opportunities created by the international ecotourism market, the project focused on developing a nature guiding programme for the local Imraguen population. Close to 20 Imraguen from different villages were selected to undergo intensive language training and to participate in a special guiding course which included an ornithological component combined with the geography, history and the ecology of the Parc National du Banc d’Arguin. To maximize the park’s potential, the field team also worked to improve local tourism infrastructure, conducted a market analysis to target tourism potential better and worked closely with international tour operators to raise the profile of Banc d’Arguin National Park as a destination for ornithological tourism." (
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The demands of international and local activists have not been met, nor has the status quo for the companies over-fishing the area shifted.
These include the following demands:
1. Greenpeace recommends an immediate halt to illegal fishing practices and that companies from China and Europe be held to their own nationally protective fishing policies in order to better maintain the Mauritanian fishery.
2. The Federation of RFD (local political party) demands that the government and the citizens respond unfavorably to the government's special treatment of the Chinese company Poly-Hondone Pelagic Fishery Co., which gives the company unlimited fishing rights to all Mauritanian waters.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

(Minister of Finance 2008) A na l y s e du s e c t eur de s

pê che s e t de l ’ aqua cultur e

dans l e nouv e au cont e x t e
[click to view]

FISHERIES PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT between the European Community and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania
[click to view]

2006 update to laws relative to Banc d'Arguin
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(ODI 2016) Western Africa’s missing fish
[click to view]

[click to view]

Banc d'Arguin National Park Website
[click to view]

EU accused of exporting problem of overfishing with Mauritania deal
[click to view]

(IUCN 2014) Mission de suivi réactif Parc national du Banc d’Arguin (Mauritanie)
[click to view]

(EU 2016) New four-year EU-Mauritania fisheries deal
[click to view]

(Baxter and Wenjing 2016) In photos: China’s distant water fishing industry is now the largest in West Africa
[click to view]

(Coulibaly 2015) New evidence shows Chinese, West African governments must rein in rogue fishing fleet
[click to view]

(Ecologist 2003) Atlantic Dawn
[click to view]

(Greenpeace 2013) West African Fishing Communities Say 'No' to Monster-Boats
[click to view]

(Clancy 2015) Skipper of world’s largest trawler convicted of breaking fishing rules
[click to view]

(Bourdon and Essemlali 2014) Accord de pêche Mauritanie – Chine: Le cri d’alarme de la société civile auprès de l’UE et du gouvernement Mauritanien
[click to view]

(Greenpeace 2017) Greenpeace reveal new cases of bad fishing practices in West Africa
[click to view]

Mullet botargo and the women of Imraguen
[click to view]

(Lorenz and Koigi 2016) Mauritania fisheries deal receives mixed response
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Petition to STOP the China Fishing Deal Disaster in Mauritania
[click to view]

Declaration of the RFD condemning government fishing policies
[click to view]

(Sherpa Press Release 2014) Accord de pêche Mauritanie – Chine: Le cri d’alarme de la société civile auprès de l’UE et du gouvernement Mauritanien
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Julie L. Snorek, EJAtlas, [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2884
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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