Senegal's abundant waters have been infested by European trawlers, which remove thousands of tonnes of fish without contributing a dollar to the local economy since many years.
A long-overdue deal to regulate the industry and claw back cash for the impoverished west African nation has finally been signed between Dakar and the European Union -- but it has been met with dismay by environmentalists and local fishermen.
Fishing is the lifeblood of the local economy, providing a key part of the Senegalese diet while contributing 12.5 percent of export earnings in 2011 and employing 600,000 people -- almost a fifth of the working-age population.
The agreement, finalised last month, allows 38 European ships to capture 14,000 tonnes of tuna for each of the next five years, in return for a total fee of 15 million euros ($20.7 million), while two Spanish trawlers have been authorised to fish hake.
Dakar will also receive 50 million euros for a wide variety of fishing-related activities, including maritime research, coastal surveillance and a compensation system for fishermen who suffer accidents.
But global environmental organisation Greenpeace has urged Senegal to reconsider the deal, arguing that it fails to take into account the interests of local fishermen, who were excluded from negotiations.
"It is clear that the agreement does not fall in line with the reasons given by the Senegalese authorities for its renewal, namely the revitalisation of the port of Dakar," said Greenpeace spokeswoman Marie Suzanne Traore.
"Actually, this agreement only maintains the current situation of eight European pole and line vessels which supply the local market in tuna and adds 28 seiners which are allowed to operate without any obligation to land their catches locally."
"The most worrying (aspect) is the inclusion of two bottom trawlers for hake despite the recommendation by the last inter-ministerial council on fisheries held in June 2013 in Dakar to freeze the fishing effort on this stock."
Greenpeace said the deal, struck while Senegal was in the process of revising its fishing code, was signed prematurely.
By signing this document, the government of Senegal has decided to "ignore the voice of Senegalese artisanal fishermen", Traore added.
- Lifeblood of the economy -
After his appointment to the cabinet in 2012, El-Ali cancelled the licences of more than 20 foreign trawlers amid growing resentment among locals whose 30-foot "pirogues", or dugout canoes, could not compete with the 10,000-tonne factory ships plying their waters.
Trawlers from within and outside the EU have continued to overfish the coastline, and families are finding it increasingly difficult to source the main ingredient for Senegal's national dish, a fish and rice meal known as "tieboudienne".
According to experts, many fish consumed by the Senegalese are now caught off neighbouring Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau, while fishermen remaining in Senegal's waters are having to go on increasingly long expeditions to make a living.
Tuna and hake are generally not caught by Senegalese artisanal fishermen, who do not venture into the deep sea, but the deal has nevertheless sparked outrage among locals.
"How can they regulate an illegal act?" said Gaoussou Gueye, a leader of the local fishing community, denouncing "a lack of transparency" in the signing of the deal.
The Organisation of Shipowners and Fishing Industrialists in Senegal expressed its "astonishment and indignation at both the process of signing and the content" of the agreement.
"There is evidence of amateurism, activism and ignorance of economic realities that led to the signing of an agreement which is catastrophic for Senegal," it said.
Senegalese Fisheries Minister Haidar El Ali rejected criticism of the deal, stating that it was simply a question of regulating an unofficial industry which had earned nothing for the country since the last agreement with the EU expired in 2006.
El Ali, a renowned ecologist widely credited for his defence of the marine environment before his appointment to President Macky Sall's government in 2012, said the agreement would help artisanal fisheries and make tuna fishing by the European fleet work better for the local economy.
"Where was Greenpeace when 15,000 tonnes was being fished and the state of Senegal was being paid nothing?" he said.
European Commissioner Maria Damanaki described Senegal as a "key partner because of its strategic location (and) the high volume of fish landed in the port of Dakar".
"This agreement benefits all stakeholders, including local artisanal fishermen," she said.