The control of the park's waters will also ensure the availability of safe breeding and nursery areas for fish that are generally caught outside park premises. Fishing is one of Mauritania's main economic activities and the PNBA fish population is a capital asset, which needs careful management. Juvenile fish growing in the park's coastal waters migrate outside the park's boundaries, benefiting the commercial fishing industry.
But implementing a sustainable approach is difficult in a country where there are an estimated 4,000 small fishing boats competing with European trawlers. In the last five years, fish catches have gone down drastically. This growing competition, together with illegal fishing, has driven the Imraguen people (the ethnic group living and fishing in the park) to switch from their traditional subsistence fishing of yellow mullet, to fishing shark and ray for the Asian market. The park has become a case study illustrating the destruction of fish stocks for short-term profit.
Not only is the yellow mullet population declining dangerously, but PNBA fishing statistics now also show a sharp decrease in shark and ray catches. After centuries of sustainable subsistence fishing, the balance has been destroyed by the world's growing demand for fish. Victim of by-catch and poaching, the park's sea turtle population is also threatened.
Park planning workshops conducted in 1994 by WWF showed the necessity of enhanced legal rules for the PNBA, as well as for reinforced controls within its perimeters. A workshop organized in 1995 with the Imraguen has led to a set of rules agreed upon by the park's inhabitants and its management. Because of opposition by the fishing lobby, these rules have not yet been promulgated. International pressure is growing on the Mauritanian government to obtain quick approval of the new regulations protecting the PNBA.
The three patrol boats that WWF contributed will begin operating this month. This same month, a workshop bringing together the Imraguen and the park administration will discuss new capacity building requirement and economic perspectives. A plan for developing ecotourism is to be completed next year. The PNBA management is also negotiating with the European Union (EU) and the Cooperation Frangaise to extend the surveillance to the park's land boundaries.
The PNBA, on the Atlantic coast of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, was founded in 1976, mainly for its birdlife. It covers an area as large as Lebanon (12,000 sq km), equally distributed between land and sea. It is Africa's largest coastal national park, a wetland of international importance registered under the 1972 Ramsar Convention, a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is also included in one of WWF's Global 200 priority ecosystems. WWF has been involved in the PNBA since its inception in 1976. Other park partners include the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the United Nations, the Fondation Internationale du Banc d'Arguin (FIBA), the EU, as well as several of its individual member countries.
During breeding season, the park harbors 45,000 pairs of aquatic birds and seabirds, pelicans, flamingoes, spoonbills, herons, cormorants, terns or gulls. In the winter more than two million migratory shorebirds, including curlew, godwits, sandpipers and plovers, have there their final destination. They are just a sample of the Banc d'Arguin's high biological diversity.
In the past, many national parks have forcibly evicted the original inhabitants. The PNBA management has embarked on the more challenging option, collaborating with the resident Imraguen, who are actively participating in the conservation strategy for this unique natural region.
For more information, please contact Meg Gawler (tel +41 22 364 9327) or Javier Arreaza (tel +41 22 364 9550) at WWF International.