As this is our last production update from Cape Verde and West Africa, we would like to share a discovery with you which we made during our stay in Mindelo, on the island of Sao Vicente. We decided to not go public with our progress because we needed to investigate something that has been proved to be a legal mess allowing unregulated and destructive fishing practices.
The European Union has an agreement with Cape Verde to fish highly migratory species, namely tuna. But Spanish and Portuguese vessels actually target sharks because of the high value of their fins on the Asian markets. This is done at the fringes of what is legal but it’s having dramatic consequences on the local population. It is not illegal because the agreements are unclear and can be interpreted in various ways. But what we know for sure is that this practice goes against the foundation of the agreement, where it is stated that European fishing vessels should work sustainably and not have an impact on resources targeted by locals.
Sharks are top predators and removing them has effects on the entire food chain in the area. Smaller fish that would prefer to be in the open ocean stay close to shore to find refuge from the sharks. Those smaller species that have disappeared mysteriously are what locals have caught for centuries. The pressure created by sharks is now so weak that fish which used to shelter by shore now freely roam the open ocean. Local fishermen can’t reach their target species unless they go far out with their little boats (which can have lethal consequences) and shoals are now in reach of international vessels, which can vacuum them up without having to take the risk of fishing them illegally within the 12 mile exclusion zone.
In 2009 the port of Mindelo saw 1400 tons of shark and shark fins. In the following year transshipment of shark products had more than doubled to 3200 tons, and by 2011 this reached 12.000 tons. These numbers are an indication of how worrying the whole situation is but don’t represent the entire scale because much fishing remains unreported.
Have a look at this photo gallery for a glimpse of what we filmed during that week of investigation.