Aquatic bushmeat in West Africa


Aquatic bushmeat in West Africa

Endangered species are being over-harvested as aquatic bushmeat, for either human consumption or as bait. This growing problem is spread across the West African coastal region. At least manatee, five species of turtle, seven species of dolphin and one species of crocodile are regularly hunted.

Declining fisheries resources have caused the rise of bushmeat harvest, as evidenced by anecdotal information. This is impacting large aquatic mammal biodiversity in the region.

There is insufficient implementation of regionally agreed actions, including the Convention on Migratory Species marine turtle and aquatic mammal agreements. Aquatic bushmeat is ‘falling through the cracks’ between environment and fisheries Ministries, agencies and international processes.

Towards solutions for managing bushmeat

Hunting for some aquatic mammals, reptiles and amphibians is already illegal in parts of West Africa, yet the real need for food and low awareness of regulations makes these laws ineffectual.

Raising general awareness about the vulnerability of many aquatic mammals, reptiles and amphibians from bushmeat harvest could be a useful focus. Similarly, providing support and capacity to shift gear types that mitigate aquatic mammal, reptile and amphibian bycatch would also be worthwhile.

OceanCare believes these measures will not solve this growing problem. Empowering West African governments with verified information to address this problem systematically should be the focus.

Existing conventions, agreements and local regulations need to be implemented and enforced. Better understanding of the scope of the problem needs to be developed. A thorough assessment of aquatic bushmeat on sale in markets should be conducted to collect data about the origins of the meat, if specific species are being traditionally caught and consumed, or the reasons for new species harvest.  This assessment can reveal the drivers behind the increased aquatic bushmeat harvest, incidences of illegal local or international trade, where endangered species are involved, and harvest levels that are unsustainable.

The assessment of aquatic bushmeat can uncover potential solutions, as well as possible incentives for change. Strengthening partnerships in the region, making information transparent and easily shared, and establishing a taskforce to leverage this information is crucial.