Fishermen unload their pirogues, large trawlers in the background


Satellites against illegal fishing

Off Mauritania's coasts lies one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. But the abundance of the otherwise barren West African state arouses appetites. To ensure that Mauritania's rights in the 200-mile zone are safeguarded, KfW has financed a digital monitoring system for the coast guard.

Fishermen in Mauritania go ashore with their pirogues

The wooden pirogues of Mauritania are not large enough to compete with international commercial fishing vessels.

Every year Issa Diop catches 600 to 700 tonnes of fish, mainly sardines. Two dozen family members live on the income of the fisherman from the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. He has been going to sea for 50 years. And what has changed over time? ”Many more fishermen are on the move“, says the 63-year-old, ”including big trawlers, and there are not as many fish as there used to be“.

Diop has a wooden pirogue. The Mauritanian artisanal fishing fleet has grown to around 7,000 boats up to 20 metres long. Most of them remain in the 20-mile zone, where the government now only allows artisanal and coastal fishermen to fish. They fish here in the coastal waters off Nouakchott like Diop, for example sardines, which are then processed into fishmeal. However, the largest part of the Mauritanian artisanal fishing fleet (over 50 percent) is devoted to catching squid, which is sold at relatively high prices.

For coastal and deep-sea fishing in Mauritanian waters, Mauritania issues licences to domestic and foreign shipping companies, but national and international fishing vessels sometimes operate in the waters without a licence. Without fisheries monitoring, the West African state would lose a lot of money through illegal fishing.

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Why Mauritania’s waters are so abundant

Nature has given Mauritania barren land, but particularly fertile seawater. Its coast is part of the upwelling area of the West African coast. Here at the edge of the shelves, cold, nutrient-rich deep water swells to the surface. Under the influence of light, this leads to massive plankton production, which forms the food base for rich fish stocks. The waters off the coast of the desert state are therefore among the richest in fish in the world with an estimated usable potential of 1.8 million tonnes per year for all fish species combined.

Each coastal state has the right to ”manage“ the 200-mile zone off its own coast on an exclusive basis. Mauritania therefore sells fishing licences for its 200-mile zone to domestic and foreign shipping companies. Dorades, squid, lobster, hake, sardines, mackerel and tuna swim in large quantities in the fishing grounds of the Islamic Republic. They attract, among others, trawlers from China, Russia and the EU. An industrial vessel like this, with its trawl nets, pulls out of the water in two days, which takes Issa Diop a year. And he owns one of the big pirogues.

Fishing agreements

The EU has concluded fisheries agreements with 13 African and Asian countries. They regulate what fish EU vessels can catch in their territorial waters and in what quantities. Mauritania receives by far the most money of all 13 states: 61.6 million euros per year. Four million of this is to go to the expansion of Mauritanian fisheries.

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The EU has a fisheries agreement with Mauritania for 2016. It is designed to meet the principles of sustainability and allows ships from EU countries to take up to 287,050 tonnes of fish and seafood from Mauritanian waters each year. Under the current agreement, which runs until 15 November 2021, Mauritania receives EUR 61.6 million per year from the EU. In total, the country has received more than EUR 1 billion from licence sales over the last 25 years.

But compliance with both fisheries agreements and coastal and deep-sea fishing licences requires monitoring and control. With the help of KfW, Mauritania has been involved in monitoring its 200-mile zone since 1990. The programme, which KfW Development Bank is financing on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), is now in its fifth phase. The bank will provide a further EUR 25.1 million until 2021, including the construction of a quay for the safe anchoring of Mauritanian coast guard patrol boats in Nouadhibou, the country's most important port city.

Read more under the image gallery.

Map of Mauritania

The coast of Mauritania running between Western Sahara and Senegal is 750 kilometres long. Seven manned radar stations here watch over the desert nation’s 200-mile zone.

750 kilometres of coastline at a glance

The Mauritanian Coast Guard controls the country's territorial waters. They use a combination of satellite, radio and radar technology, which was financed by the German government through KfW. This includes, for example, the installation of the seven manned radar stations located along the 750-kilometre-long coast between Senegal and the Western Sahara.

The radars can locate ships within the 200-mile zone. The coastguards also evaluate detailed satellite data about ships in the 200-mile zone at their headquarters in Nouakchott. A comparison with the fishing licences shows whether a vessel is allowed to fish in the zone.

If the coastguard suspects something, it sends out a patrol boat. If the inspection of the foreign vessel confirms the suspicion, it will be confiscated in accordance with Mauritanian law, explains Commander Ahmed Ould Moulaye, Head of Operations of the Mauritanian Coast Guard. His country's digital surveillance technology is ”a role model in the region,“ he says. And it is making an impact. In recent years, the number of legal violations of fishing law has decreased significantly.

Fishing in Mauritania

66,000 people work in the fisheries and fish processing industry, more than in any other sector of the country's economy. 40 percent of export earnings come from the fishing industry.

”The aim of the measures to strengthen fisheries monitoring financed by KfW is to ensure responsible and sustainable use of fish as a resource,“ says Henning Baur, until recently the responsible project manager at KfW Development Bank. With the funds from the sale of licences the Mauritanian state is financing, among other things, the expansion of its own fishing industry. It has already secured around 66,000 jobs.

Almost one in three Mauritanians lives below the poverty line, but the fishing industry has the potential to employ and feed more people than before – if it is run sustainably and if more fish is processed in Mauritania.

Cover CHANCEN Success in the Digital World

The article was published in CHANCEN spring/summer 2017 „Erfolg in der digitalen Welt“.

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According to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, African countries gained USD 400 million from the sale of fishing licences in 2014; with their own fleets and processing, they would come to generate revenues of USD 3.3 billion.


All United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda in 2015. At its heart is a list of 17 goals for sustainable development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our world should become a place where people are able to live in peace with each other in ways that are ecologically compatible, socially just, and economically effective.

Published on KfW Stories: 7 June 2017, last updated: 30 November 2020.