China is not the only culprit threatening the marine ecosystems of west Africa through overfishing (Nature 496, 18, 2013). The region has been the fish basket of southern Europe since the 1960s, and the European Union (EU) is going to great lengths to renew its fishery agreements with African nations.

These agreements are questionable because they promote the export of African marine resources into the EU to the detriment of local economies and food sovereignty. Morocco has allowed EU vessels into the national waters of neighbouring Western Sahara, effectively hijacking its fish stocks.

The uncontrolled harvesting of pelagic fish and octopus by hundreds of foreign fishing vessels is having a deep ecological impact on the Atlantic Ocean's Canary Current upwelling marine ecosystem, a major biodiversity hotspot. It is also destroying vast amounts of by-catch.

Research programmes are under way to quantify this collateral damage. Some highly vulnerable and endangered marine vertebrates are affected, including monk seals, several shark species, dolphins and sea turtles, and hundreds of thousands of Macaronesian and Palaearctic seabirds that breed and overwinter along the west African coast (see, for example, J. Zeeberg et al. Fish. Research 78, 186–195; 2006).

We therefore urge EU parliament members to rethink their African fishing policies, properly taking into account the devastating political, social and ecological impact of their large industrial fisheries.