West African fishermen have long complained about European fishing fleets diminishing their livelihoods, but frustrated by a lack of action through official channels, three individuals took their fight direct to the UK's largest indoor fish market yesterday. Celestino Oliveira, Abdou Karim Sall and Issa El Moustapha Diop are in the UK to try to influence current reforms to the EU common fisheries policy. The fishermen headed straight to Billingsgate fish market in east London, which imports 40 per cent of its fish from around the world, to decry the impact over-fishing is having on their lives.

Almost a quarter of all fish taken by Europe's fishing fleet is caught outside the EU and waters off the coast of West Africa are a constant draw. European factory trawlers – the size of football stadiums – catch the same amount of fish per day as thirty or forty traditional boats would catch in a year.

As Mr Oliveira, a 53-year-old fisherman from Cape Verde said: "When I started fishing, we would get in our boats and go out 300 metres to catch as many tuna as we liked. Now, I have to go up to 50 miles from the coast and we can be gone for five days before we see any. We see the European boats in the same areas. The small boats are pushed further out and as a result, people are losing their lives."

Agreements between international governments and the EU mean that it is legal to fish in several foreign seas, but the fishermen want cuts in the number of ships, more sustainable capture methods and help to monitor ships coming in and out of their water.

"Fishing used to be stable and I could live a good life... now I am earning ten times less than when I started twenty-five years ago," said Mr Sall.

Minister for natural environment and fisheries, Richard Benyon, met the men and said the Commission must take a serious look at fisheries partnership agreements and make sure they are based on sustainability

A Greenpeace spokeswoman, who organised the trip to the UK, said: "Timing is crucial – the reform of the common fisheries policy is underway, and it is vital that decision makers take their testimony into account."