A more sustainable approach

Fishing in Mozambique. Credit: Stig Nygaard Fishing in Mozambique. Credit: Stig Nygaard

More effort has been put into creating more sustainable fisheries on the east coast of Africa over the last few years, backed up by a large World Bank loan and grant. Adrian Tatum charts recent developments and the challenges still facing the region.

Developments last year gave hope to all those involved in fisheries on the east coast of Africa. It was the approval of a S$91 million fisheries loan and grant package for East Africa and the South West Indian Ocean region from the World Bank that was the catalyst.

The investment is for sustainable fisheries development along the East African coast and South West Indian Ocean with the intention of those fisheries nations improving regional cooperation and management of near and deep sea fishing zones. The money, which is to be used over the next five years includes a grant to support work undertaken by the Indian Ocean Commission. This will benefit the member countries of the South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission and French overseas territories in the region which include La Reunion and several other islands with extensive Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). 

The South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWIOFC) members include; Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Yemen and French territories. 

The grant will be used to finance efforts to create a regional strategy to increase national and regional benefits from key SWIO fisheries, and including multilateral cooperation on cross-border marine resources, particularly migratory species. IOC also will work to further develop institutional arrangements involving government agencies and other organisations to improve regional fisheries collaboration benefiting all SWIOFC members. This will include developing common regional Minimum Terms and Conditions for tuna fishing licenses to increase coastal states’ financial benefits from their tuna resources. 

Also, the World Bank has recently announced plans to increase its investment in climate change related projects, a move which could benefit coastal fisheries communities in East Africa being affected by this year’s strong El-Nino weather pattern.

Since the announcement of this round of investment in East Africa’s fisheries, the South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWIOFC) has endorsed the processes for adopting regional Minimum Terms and Conditions (MTC) for Fisheries Access Agreements and a regional Fisheries Accord by the SWIOFC member states.  

These key fisheries reforms are expected to strengthen shared fish stocks sustainability and increase benefits to South West Indian Ocean (SWIO) countries, including fishing communities across all the coastal countries, says the WWF.

Building strong political coalition within the SWIO region includes the establishment of the Working Party on Coordination and Cooperation in Tuna Fisheries (WPCCTF), to strengthen regional cooperation to secure sustainable fisheries and maximise social and economic benefits, as well as the signing of the Maputo Declaration on MTC by Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. In particular, the regional MTC aims at expanding the scope of the Maputo Declaration to the entire SWIO region, securing more equity in benefit sharing with Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN), promoting and ensuring improved regional cooperation for conservation and sustainable management of highly migratory and shared tuna fisheries stocks and increasing regional capacity for decision making.

The SWIO Fisheries Accord aims to promote a common approach in engaging the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), South Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) and relevant Regional Economic Communities (RECs), including common/harmonised implementation of adopted conservation and cost-shared scientific research, address maritime boundaries and ensure mutually compatible fisheries access arrangements with Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN), amongst others.

The regional MTC and the SWIO Fisheries Accord are expected to be improved technically under the coordination of the Working Party for Coordination and Collaboration in Tuna Fisheries (WPCCTF), for adoption by the Commission, and future implementation. Currently there are draft protocols for both instruments, produced by WWF and Africa Union Inter-Agency for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), and further improved by the SWIO countries with support from WWF, IOC-Smartfish Project and SWIOFish1 Project, says WWF.

‘Blue bonds’
Other countries are also making good use of the investment in the region. The Seychelles fisheries sector has announced plans to offer ‘blue bonds’, which fund the development of sustainable fisheries, to potential investors later this year.

The country’s Treasury is in talks with multilateral agencies including the African Development Bank and the World Bank to facilitate the sale of $10 million of the government-backed debt.

The commercial fishing industry in the Seychelles, which has Africa’s biggest tuna-canning factory, is dominated by companies including Thai Union Group Pcl, Thailand’s largest seafood exporter. Fisheries account for about 1% of the country’s $1.4 billion economy.

The government is developing sustainable ways of expanding Seychelles’ fishing industry as part of an initiative to deal with the impact of climate change. Sea levels have risen 19cm (7.5in) since the end of the 19th century, including about 5cm in the past 15 years, as global temperatures have increased by an average of 0.8oC. The sale of the blue bonds will be linked to a fisheries management plan to develop the country’s semi-industrial and artisanal fishing sectors.

The Seychelles plans to progress the market further and expand the project to incorporate other Indian Ocean island nations such as Comoros, Madagascar and Mauritius, if the bond is successful.

Illegal fishing
Kenya has reported that its coast is becoming even more vulnerable to illegal fishing, especially tuna. The government says that the country loses at least $118 million every year due to illegal fishing and fish poaching but does not have the ‘capacity’ to patrol its waters. Tuna remains one of the most illegally caught fish in the world, estimated at seven million tonnes globally, with a value of $10 billion, data shows.

Kenya's territorial waters lie within the South West Indian Ocean, the richest tuna belt, with the fishing season running from May to July and attracts many foreign vessels from Europe and Asia, reports the East African.

Kenya has licensed nearly 40 purse seiners in the past four years to fish in its waters. Of these, 14 are Spanish and 13 are French. In 2014, the last year complete data is available, 35 foreign purse seiners took annual licences. Twenty five of these were from the European Union.

Kenya requires reporting, specifying the cargo on board, time and entry or exit position, as a condition of a licence for foreign vessels operating in its territorial waters. The reporting is done at the State Department of Fisheries via the Director of Fisheries whenever entering and leaving Kenya's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) - a sea zone prescribed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Kenya also requires licensed foreign vessels to submit weekly catch data reports, but there are concerns that the reporting is not done accurately, purposefully concealing any illegal activities in its waters.

Last year, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture started registering the fishermen. But because most of them are small scale, it is difficult to track them down. Through the village chief fishermen, the government also conducts training on sustainable fishing practices.

There was also a plan to regulate the kind of nets the fishermen use so that the wrong species of fish are not caught, but the plan was shelved, because the fishing gear is linked to tribes and cultural practices, and therefore outlawing one gear would disadvantage an entire community.

In Kenya, the government is constructing a monitoring control and surveillance Centre in Mombasa. This centre is expected to be operational by the end of the year. The country is also acquiring an offshore patrol vessel that will enable better tracking of illegal vessels in Kenyan waters.

Last year, the Fisheries Management and Development Bill, which seeks stiff penalties for vessels caught fishing illegally in Kenya's EEZ was formulated. The Bill is currently before parliament. A Tuna Fisheries Development Management Strategy was launched in 2014, to enable Kenya exploit its stocks.

Also, a new report by Secure Fisheries titled Securing Somalia Fisheries has revealed that foreign illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Somali waters by foreign fleets is reducing fish stocks, and has caused widespread resentment among Somali coastal communities, threatening renewed maritime insecurity. The report shows that foreign industrial IUU fishing vessels catch over 132,000 metric tons of fish each year, while the Somali artisanal fleet catches only 40,000 metric tons. The report uses published and unpublished data, interviews with Somalis and regional experts, and unveils new satellite evidence of IUU fishing. Iran and Yemen have the largest fishing presence in Somali waters, while vessels from Europe and Asia also have landed significant catches.

The report shows foreign IUU fishing in Somali waters has been a problem for decades. During the 1990s, IUU fishing was a justification for pirate attacks in Somali waters. And though Somali pirates quickly shifted their focus toward more lucrative vessels, such as cargo ships and oil tankers, piracy appears to have caused many foreign fishing vessels to leave the area during the mid-2000s. But recently this trend has reversed.

The long Somali coast should provide a source of food and income security in underdeveloped coastal communities, but foreign IUU fishing has resulted in depleted stocks, a loss of income for Somalis, and violence against local fishers. It also has threated to ignite local support for a return of piracy, says the report.

Another key finding is that economically important fish stocks in Somali waters are being fished at unsustainable levels, and foreign IUU vessels are harvesting commercially valuable tuna stocks at maximum capacity, leaving no room for Somalis to profit from their rich marine waters.

The report provides 19 recommendations to reduce foreign IUU fishing in Somali waters and develop a sustainable Somali fishing sector, including: 

  • Improving information sharing between international and regional actors
  • Identify fishing vessels operating in Somali waters
  • Increasing the use of satellite tracking devices on fishing vessels
  • Advancing fisheries infrastructure and development projects in Somalia

In Kenya, simple methods, such as improving the condition of mangroves have had a positive effect on the fishing sector as well. The Guardian in the UK report that one fishermen said, “Since we started caring for the mangroves, we harvest more and more fish.” The Kenya Marines and Fisheries Research Institute says, “Fish rarely breed in the deep sea because the conditions are hostile. Fish prefer mangrove environments so they are protected against predation and strong water currents.”

In Madagascar, similar coastline projects have been implemented. In fact, 34 new locally managed marine areas have been started in the last six years. The country, along with several others in Africa, has implemented a system which sees fisheries being closed for three months to raise fish stocks. Locally managed marine areas are a cost effective way of managing fish resources.

More to do
However, more still needs to be done in East Africa. Illegal fishing is still prominent and according to a new report, global fish catches are falling three times faster than UN figures have stated, with overfishing still central to that decline. But research by the Nature Communications journal show annual catches between 1950 and 2010 were much bigger than other figures suggest but also the decline was much faster.

The FAO data indicated a catch of 86m tonnes in 1996, then a decline of 0.4m tonnes per year. In contrast, the new research estimates the peak catch was 130m tonnes, but declined at 1.2m tonnes per year afterwards.

Global fish catches rose from the 1950s to 1996 as fishing fleets expanded and discovered new fish stocks to exploit. But after 1996, few undiscovered fisheries were left and catches started to decline. There has been success in some places where fishing has been restricted for a few years, for example in the Norwegian herring and cod fisheries. On resumption, catches were bigger than ever, says the report.



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