Aquatic wild meat in West Africa
Aquatic wild meat in West Africa
Endangered and threatened species are being over-harvested as aquatic wildmeat, for either human consumption, traditional medicine use or as fishing bait. The capture, consumption and other uses of animals such as dolphins, manatees, turtles, crocodiles and seabirds are widespread across Southeast Asia, western and Central Africa, the Pacific Islands Region, Latin America and other regions. Many of these animals are captured and traded illegally.
Declining fisheries resources due to overfishing by far-reaching fishing fleets, the use of forbidden and unsustainable fishing techniques coupled with the impact of climate change on coastal communities have caused the rise of wildmeat harvest, as evidenced by a recent pilot study conducted in the Coastal Regions of Benin and Togo. This is impacting large aquatic mammal biodiversity in the region.
A local issue with global responsibility
Across the world, indigenous and local communities have been alienated from terrestrial and aquatic resources they should rightfully control, manage and benefit from. Efforts to manage wildmeat demand are grossly undermined by large-scale industrial activities such as mining and palm oil plantations. Industrialised, large-scale, unsustainable or unregulated fishing, often from foreign fishing vessels, puts massive pressure on coastal communities who are no longer able to manage their coastal resources sustainably. Local communities are forced to find alternative sources of protein or income, as fishing no longer provides what they need.
Of particular concern is the situation in West Africa. To address the situation, OceanCare has developed a close partnership with aquatic wildmeat expert Maximin Djondo from Benin who is now part of the OceanCare team. In the pilot study that he conducted in 2019, he provides precious insights from the region that are extremely difficult, very sensitive and at times even dangerous to obtain.
Towards solutions for addressing aquatic wild meat in West Africa
Hunting for some aquatic mammals, reptiles and amphibians is already illegal in most 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 wild meat 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. It will be followed by participatory conservation actions at grassroots level with communities who depend on the aquatic wildmeat.
Existing conventions, agreements and local regulations need to be implemented and enforced. Better understanding of the scope of the problem still needs to be developed to address the real drivers, such as over-fishing. A thorough assessment of aquatic wild meat 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 wild meat harvest, incidences of illegal local or international trade, where endangered species are involved, and harvest levels that are unsustainable.
The assessment of aquatic wild meat 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.