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Stealing from the poor (documentary)

6 years ago, Written by , Posted in Multimedia

A documentary by Exandas

Have you ever asked yourself where does the fish you eat come from? If you had, you would be controlling a huge pirate industry which commits a crime in your dish! The ever-rising demand for fish in the international market has driven European and Asian fishing fleets towards the coasts of West Africa. Hundreds of industrial pirate ships are fishing illegally in the territorial waters of the nations of the area, devastating all forms of life in the ocean and condemning millions of Africans to poverty and hunger. 

“Stealing from the Poor” was filmed in Senegal, where pirate fishing perpetrated by huge industrial vessels belonging to developed countries is depriving the inhabitants of this West African country of their main source of subsistence.

You can watch the documentary with Greek subtitles here for free. Or click on ‘English’ for ways to watch the version with English subtitles.

The Story:

“We are poor, we cannot compete with the big ships, we are in the hands of God”, says Mr. Ibrahim. At the age of 57, he must still go fishing in order to provide for his family. His means are a traditional pirogue and a fishing net. He takes his two sons, aged 12 and 14, along with him at sea. In Senegal’s St. Louis, the “African Venice”, this is expected. As babies, children begin playing with small tin pirogues in the river waters, then they go on to help their fathers, until they finally grow up and become true captains of the ocean. “Pirogues and fishing have always been at the heart of the people’s everyday life.

There is no agriculture in Saint Louis, no stockbreeding, nothing but  fishing, the locomotive of the town’s subsistence. The fact that we are fishermen means our fathers were also fishermen”, explains Mr. Mustafa Gaye, general secretary of Senegal’s Autonomous Fishers Syndicate. Moreover, the entire social tissue is constructed on fishing. A person might not have a single coin on him, only a basket, he will go to the beach and, when the pirogues arrive, the fishermen will give him fish. It is a form of social contribution.

Already from the time that the French colonialists set foot on Saint Louis, approximately 400 years before they went on to invade, from there, the rest of West Africa, the pirogues floating in the canals formed a valuable network. It was the means of work, the means of transport, the garbage truck, the ambulance… As Mr. Gaye says, “It is our culture, when they take away the pirogue and fishing from us, they take away our life”.

The broader fishing sector in Senegal employs 600,000 natives, meaning 15% of the labour force. However, the invasion of foreign fishing vessels has disturbed traditional working methods. “Before, our grandparents would catch fish close to the shore, now we go far into sea and catch nothing”, explains Mr. Ibrahim. “We are proletarians, we depend on our fishing nets in order to live, all the big boats come and destroy them. And there is no fish any more. Some species we haven’t seen in years. The only thing that can be found in abundance any more are sardines. We never used to eat that fish before, we would use it for bait. But we can’t find any good fish any more!”

Every day, Mr. Ibrahim sets sail in his boat at dawn and returns at dusk, but he rarely comes back
with a lot. Many times he does not even cover his fuel expenses. With the so-called noble fish being overfished by industrial vessels and ending up in foreign markets, conditions are getting harder for the native population. Fish provide the area’s inhabitants with approximately 75% of the animal protein they need for their proper nourishment. “That is why we project the ironic slogan, Africa is feeding Europe!” says Fara Obaitoula, member of the Greenpeace international sector. They come with their bellies full and steal the food from the mouths of the poor… The looting of the African seas is costing the States of the area an estimated 1 billion dollars! The overall turnover of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing (IUUF), as pirate fishing is officially called, was recently estimated at over 10 billion euro. That places the area as the second biggest fishing producer globally, right after China! The European Union is the biggest market, as it is the main importer of fishing products in the world. Modest estimates mention 500,000 tons of illegally fished products being illicitly imported to Europe, with a total value of 1.1 billion euro!

Having exhausted all fish stocks in its own seas, the EU seeks the valuable fish in the big oceans, especially in the seas of West Africa, home to one of the world’s greatest marine ecosystems. However, the presence of industrial-scale fishing vessels has had an enormous impact on the environment in only a few years. “They are the ones who loot the seas and destroy the oceans. And where you used to see life, where you used to see the mermaids, the beautiful marine plant, where you used to see fish, now you only see rubbish. Life is gradually disappearing from the oceans!” says, with genuine indignation, Haydar El Ali, an activist member of the Oceanium organization, who has dived in Senegalese waters thousands of times.

According to the testimonies of the natives, the big foreign vessels comb the seas and leave nothing standing. Using huge bottom trawls, they indistinctively gather anything that swims, without regard to the depth of the waters, the time of year or the type of fish. What if the abovementioned parameters are defined through international treaties in order to ensure sustainable fishing? As long as there is demand in the market, nothing can stop the industry from making a profit. The fish which are of no commercial interest are sorted out and thrown back into the sea, dead. And the oceans, which we once considered inexhaustible, will be left lifeless in very little time.

According to data provided by the International Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 75% of the international fish stocks are under immediate threat: they are being overfished, are in the verge of collapse or have already disappeared! With their scant means, the traditional fishermen of Senegal cannot compete with the huge fishing vessels. Many end up depending on them for work. A sailor’s daily salary is very low, conditions are terrible and the working hours are exhausting. “There are times that your legs swell up inside the boots, you need a knife to take them off”, denounces Mr. Kruma, secretary of the Syndicate of Merchant Shipping. “In other occasions, without our intervention, the sailors our left without food for days”…

Many more are those who, not being able to earn enough in order to subsist, take the pirogues they once used for fishing and try, in tens, to cross the ocean and reach the coast of Spain, in pursuit of the dream of a better life. In order to prevent the immigration wave, the EU has sent ships to Senegal belonging to FRONTEX, its border patrol army. “Adopting measures against pirate shipping would have been enough, no one would be trying to leave the country. Everyone would subsist through fishing. However, the bottom of the sea is full of the lifeless bodies of young people who were lost during the adventure”, says angrily Mamadu, a dedicated local activist. “The European consumers should know that. When they eat fish that have been illegally caught, they eat the life of a Senegalese fisherman”.

– Senegal revoked the fishing licensing agreements with the EU in 2012. However, this phenomenon is still very common in the waters of African countries –