Overfishing is one of the greatest threats to our ocean and jeopardizes the health, food security, and livelihoods of millions of people in coastal communities who depend on healthy, sustainable fisheries.
One of the key drivers of overfishing is government subsidies—payments that help offset fishermen’s costs, increase their revenue, or both. Though not all subsidies are considered harmful, governments spend around $20 billion a year in damaging subsidies, such as those that cover the costs of fuel, gear, and boat construction. As a result, vessels are traveling farther and fishing longer than might otherwise be profitable, worsening overfishing and placing a relentless strain on marine life.
Many of these subsidies drive inequality on the water and in the marketplace, largely because most of the support goes to large-scale fleets, not small-scale fishers. In fact, the average fish worker in a developing country receives just a dollar from subsidies, compared with $7 received by their counterparts in the developed world.
For a firsthand look at how overfishing is affecting communities, The Pew Charitable Trusts traveled to Joal, a Senegalese fishing village on West Africa’s Atlantic coast, where artisanal fishing crews told us they’re not catching enough to feed themselves and their families, let alone turn a profit.
Watch the following videos to hear from residents of Joal.
A Fish Seller Struggles to Feed Her Family
Aissatou Seye buys and resells fish at the market in Joal, Senegal. Since her husband died, she depends on this income to support her family. But in recent years, she has had an increasingly hard time making ends meet. Overfishing—primarily by industrial, foreign-flagged vessels—has rapidly depleted fish stocks in the seas around Joal and coastal communities worldwide. Globally, a third of fish stocks are overfished. “It is so bad, we think the sea is empty,” Seye says.
“Sea cannot cope with burden man is imposing,”-Karim Sall, president of the Fishermen’s Association in Joal.
Karim Sall is president of the Fishermen’s Association in Joal, Senegal, where he sees firsthand the impact of overfishing on his community. Globally, a third of fish stocks are overfished.
According to Sall, fishermen in Joal once made a comfortable living and supported their families. But as overfishing depletes Senegal’s waters, local fishermen are increasingly coming back with empty or nearly empty nets. The situation is so dire that it is threatening not only the locals’ livelihoods but also their culture. “I am really scared for the future generation,” Sall says.
With So Few Fish in The Ocean, A Fisherman Worries About His Children’s Future.
As he has almost every day of his adult life, Malik Seye, a 30-something fisherman in Joal, Senegal, wakes at dawn and leads his crew out to sea on a colorfully painted wooden pirogue. But in recent years, he has been forced to cut short more fishing days because he and his crew aren’t catching enough fish.
He blames the industrial fleets that “sweep everything away,” a sentiment supported by data that show that a third of stocks are overfished globally. He hopes his children do not become fishermen, even as he knows he himself has no other choice: “I am a fisherman. I cannot do anything else.”
“Fish is our everything,”-Marianne Teneng Ndaye, a seafood processor.
Marianne Teneng Ndaye is a third-generation fish processor and president of the Seafood Women Processors in Joal, Senegal. She leads a group of women who dry, salt, and smoke fish for transport.
This was a viable way to make a living before overfishing took its toll on local waters. According to Ndaye, wages have decreased by two-thirds since 2010. “Processing fish is our only source of earning a living,” she says.
Harmful fisheries subsidies are one driver of overfishing. Fortunately the World Trade Organization has the power to end them this year.