The coastal ocean off West Africa (WA) is a particularly acute example of the exploitation preservation tension. Wind-driven upwelling fuels one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystem, that has been exploited by the local populations for centuries. Presently, coastal countries in WA strongly depend upon ocean resources, which supply between 25 and 67% of the total animal protein consumption, provide employment to local populations, and revenues from fishing licences sold to foreignfleets, as well as export to European and Asian markets. Important targets are small pelagic fish/shellfish harvest remains an important food supply or even the main mean of subsistence.
Yet concerns are accumulating. Owing to rapid demographic growth and lack of alternative opportunities the size of the artisanal fishing fleet has been expanding for decades. Its area of operation extends tens of kilometers offshore where foreign industrial fishing fleets, legal and illegal, are also very active. Sardinella and other small pelagic fish species exploitation has reached unsustainable levels. Overfishing, upcoming global changes and various possible environmental hazards put the WA coastal ocean at risk of ecosystem disruption and shift, with major potential impact on small pelagic fish.
Gaining insight into the functioning of the senegalese coastal ocean with the help of young local scientists under training is our way to respond to this critical situation. This will only be useful if national authorities implement and enforce strict preservation regulations (e.g., on oil exploitation and coastal development) and if the magnitude of global changes remains within acceptable limits.