Exploring new FIP possibilities in Africa

SFP has had an interest in expanding its involvement with FIPs in Africa for a while now. After a trip this month to Mauritania, I am convinced there is huge potential in that country for a small pelagics FIP, and possibly even one for octopus.

Some time ago, some of our partners asked us to find a way to implement a FIP in Mauritania for the small pelagics industry. At the end of 2016, during a Moroccan FIP meeting in Casablanca, we met a representative from OLVEA Fish Oils, a French company with offices in four African countries, who spoke to us about OLVEA’s projects in Mauritania. In order to have a better idea about their work and get connected to the network there, we planned a visit to the capital, Nouakchott, and the coastal city of Nouadhibou.

Mauritania is a nation with a population of 3.9 million on Africa’s northern west coast, with Senegal to the south and Morocco to the north. While there, welcomed by Winterisation Mauritania, OLVEA’s subsidiary in Mauritania, we met with the MFME (Mauritanian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Economy); FNP (Fédération Nationale des Pêches de Mauritanie); the National Fishing Federation (representing the fishmeal and oil industry); IMROP (Mauritanian National Research Institute in charge of fisheries); ONISPA (National Office for Sanitary Inspection of Fishing and Aquaculture Products); the ISSM (Higher Institute of Marine Science); and Rim Fish Meal, a fish meal and fish oil factory involved (along with OLVEA) in processing and fishery improvement. Rim Fish Meal was the first factory in Mauritania to be certified under the GMP+ standard.

The country’s small pelagics fishery is largely artisanal – most fishermen operate in 22-meter Senegalese fiberglass and wood canoes. Working on contract for Mauritanian factories, a single pair of canoes (or pirogues), with about 35 fishermen between them, mostly Senegalese, use purse seine nets to catch about 20–30 tons in a day-long trip.

It is a risky business. Despite legislation and safety regulations, there are no safety measures or equipment onboard. High demand for fish means these boats have been known to go out in bad weather and, on rare occasions, the fishermen stay at sea overnight. While an uncommon occurrence, it is no surprise that boats are sometimes lost, along with all hands, at sea.

There is also a coastal fleet of Turkish and Chinese vessels, and an industrial deep-sea fleet of massive factory vessels. The European Union has an agreement that allows fishing in Mauritanian waters, but the exact number of non-artisanal vessels is unknown, and since not all of them land at Mauritanian ports, it is difficult to assess annual catch data. A FIP would go a long way toward improving artisanal working conditions and getting a handle on just what, and how much, is being caught there.

A FIP already has plenty of industrial support – the OLVEA Group sponsored our trip through its affiliates OLVEA Fish Oils and Winterisation Mauritania. The world needs more companies like this one – OLVEA’s people showed me they are capable of engaging and putting effort into improving fisheries from countries facing challenges that would scare away most other companies from the developed world.

Other stakeholders we met with were similarly interested in FIP development. They initially expressed some concerns about what it would take to get sustainability certification – they learned some time ago that they have a long way to go to get certified, and have come to believe that such a goal might be out of reach. That said, once they understood the concept of a FIP and saw how much interest there was from US and EU markets, they began to see the potential, beginning, perhaps, with IFFO RS certification before working their way up to more robust standards, such as those set by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

I also took the opportunity to explore interest in improvements to the nation’s octopus fishery. Stakeholders have been communicating with the MSC on the fishery for the past two years, and while there has been little movement, they told me the MSC is willing to find support for certification. SMCP (Société Mauritanienne de Commercialisation des Produits de Pêche), the public company that is in charge of controlling octopus exports, wasn’t available during this trip, but I’m planning to talk with them in the future.

Overall, the situation in Mauritania, particularly for small pelagics, will make a new FIP challenging, as most FIPs in developing nations are. Despite that, all of the people I met and discussed the matter with, from a potential industrial partner to local governmental authorities to the fishermen themselves, showed an enthusiasm for the project. That, I think, will make all the difference here, and I look forward to working further on this project.