Aquatic wildmeat is defined as the products derived from aquatic mammals, birds and reptiles used for subsistence food and traditional uses, including meat, shells, bones and organs and as bait for fisheries. Endangered, threatened and protected species are affected and over-harvested as aquatic wild meat.
Fisheries play significant social and nutritional roles in large parts of Africa. For coastal West African fishing communities, fish generate employment opportunities and are a vital source of income for many people. These communities are often among the poorest and most vulnerable, and fish provide their families with a relatively cheap source of protein. But their livelihood and their futures are now threatened by climate change causing shifts in ecosystems they have been knowing for generations. Compounding this, industrial fishing vessels from Europe and Asia operating in the region’s waters, often illegally, are also destroying the ecosystems on which they depend. Every year, these fishermen face the reality that more and more fish populations are depleted, which forces the fishermen and their communities to adapt for survival. Some men leave their homes and families to seek out better employment in neighbouring countries, other men try to survive by investing more time in fishing further from shore in dangerous conditions. Others turn to hunting aquatic Wildmeat (mostly sea turtles, aquatic birds, West African manatees and dolphins) to feed their families.
So, as the new Western Africa Aquatic Wildmeat Consultants for OceanCare, our team in Benin engage with local communities to manage their aquatic Wildmeat harvests, while other members of the OceanCare team are creating international pressure to control the European and Asian industrial fishing vessels.
At the community level, our West African team work with community leaders, fishermen associations, and local elected officials who are directly in charge of local natural resources management. We conduct research and monitoring, education and environmental awareness, and we work to inspire local action. We collaborate with the fisheries communities living in coastal areas to better understand the kind of aquatic Wildmeat they hunt or catch as bycatch of fishing activities. Together, we explore alternative sustainable income generating activities such as birdwatching and whale watching. We use that information for lobbying and advocacy work with different stakeholders, including the Ministries of Environment and Fisheries across the region, to enable them to come up with better actions for the conservation of aquatic wildlife, without depleting the resources.
Communities can adapt and change to a certain extent, but it is unfair that the poorest and most vulnerable should have to bear the full responsibility for this situation. It is crucial that international players also recognise the impact they are causing. It is time for West Africa’s fisheries to be left to West Africans.