Fishing turns pawn on African waterse
Fisheries stock in West Africa has been on the decline since the 80s. The region is said to be losing $1.3billion annually to illegal fishing. Despite the decline,there are over 462 Chinese vessels doing both legal and illegal fishing business on Nigeria’s waterways. Joke Falaju (in Abuja) writes on the need for African countries to join hands in curbing this menace.
Illegal fishing on the West African coast has not only depleted the revenue generation from the sector but has also exhausted the number of fishes in the ocean and left many fishermen jobless. Nowadays fishermen in many coastal communities are going to the sea to catch fish but returning without any.
A recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that Nigeria loses $60million annually to illegal fishing. This is in addition to $1.3billion worth of fish the West African region lose to illegal trade. The livelihoods and nutrition of millions of people in Africa are being put at risk by foreign fishing fleets in the waters.
Rising global demand for fish has made African waters a magnet for fleets from around the world. European trawlers remain the primary foreign presence, but fleets from China, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea and Taiwan have also expanded in recent years. Foreign commercial trawlers are poaching fish from African coastal waters and leaving small fisherman without enough to catch.
Reports by Fisheries Transparency Initiative disclosed that Chinese Vessels has expanded from 13 vessels in 1985 to 462 vessels presently.
The Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is easy and highly lucrative due to lack of monitoring and enforcement, especially in West Africa. These pirates target places called Inshore Exclusive Zones (IEZ) which were created to protect shallow coastal waters where fishes come to reproduce. They target high value species while generating a huge amount of unwanted by-catch, which is then tossed into the oceans.
Coastal communities across West Arica are reporting a dramatic decline in the amount of fishes caught. As a result they spend longer time at sea for fewer or smaller fish; this is because the rate of harvest far outstrips that of replenishment.
In 2014, the Nigerian Navy announced that it has arrested 22 Chinese nationals for fishing in its territorial waters without permits and passports. Four vessels were said not to have immigration documents and 22 crew members on the vessels do not have international passports.
Investigations by The Guardian revealed that the former Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akiwunmi Adesina did all it could to ensure that Chinese nationals were sanctioned and their vessels seized, unfortunately the menace of corruption that has bedevilled every Nigerian sector would not allow that to happen, it was later gathered that the vessels was released without much ado.
Some Chinese companies were alleged fishing on prohibited grounds or under-declared their catches. It was gathered that boats either turned off their identification systems or transmitted false location data. The absence of efficient fisheries management in some West Africa States, including Nigeria has allowed rogue companies to plunder marine resources; they are taking advantage of weak enforcement from African governments and Chinese authorities to the detriment of local fisherman and the environment.
Stakeholders have canvassed need for the Chinese government to control rogue fishermen, because if unchecked such practices could jeopardize its mutually beneficial partnership in West Africa.
The Nigerian marine waters are plagued with almost daily attacks by armed robbers on our shrimp trawling vessels, leading to killings and maiming of crew members, abduction of key officers and demand for huge ransom for their release, seizure of vessels for days leading to loss of fishing days, and the removal of fishing/communication equipment and catches.
A total of 271 reported cases of attacks on vessels operating in the Nigerian Territorial Waters occurred between February 2009 and September, 2013. The socio-economic impact is huge, as it has led to a drastic reduction in the number of fishing fleet from about 230 vessels to only 119 vessels, with only ten companies in operation in recent years.
The African Union has however expressed worry at the continued decline of fish stocks on the African continent, following the decrease in the fish catch by artisanal and industrial fishermen. The Senior Specialist African Union Inter African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), Mohammed Seesay stated this during a fisheries communication Workshop on harnessing the power of media to raise awareness on the issues of the Fisheries sector in Africa.
Pointing out that the global fish stock has being on the decline since 1980, and if care is not taken, the world may not be able to meet up with the global demand of 50million metric tonne by 2025. He hinged the depleting fish stock on the continued illegal fishing activities, over exploitation of the fishing stock, weak monitoring, control and governance, violating fishing regulations, endemic corruption in fisheries governance, harmful subsidies, low professionalism among others.
Meanwhile the World Bank had estimated that improved fisheries governance and resource management could generate at least an addition $2-4billion annually and the additional multiplier effects and impact on employment could be brought through value chain development.
The AU representative further lamented that 70 percent of fisheries stocks on the continent are fully exploited or over exploited; disclosing that globally over $100billion is lost annually to poor fisheries governance and management. He stressed the need to avoid overexploitation, which often decreases productivity and socio-economic benefits. Disclosing that about 1.6billion mt of fish is needed to meet the demand gap in 2016.
“If government is aware of the increasing potential resources available in the fisheries sector they would increase focus on the fisheries sector,” he said.
Seesay further noted that currently, fisheries and aquaculture directly contribute $24billion to the African economy, representing 1.3 percent of the total African GDP, adding that an increase in GDP could be achieved by augmenting fishing activities. He noted that sustainable aquaculture and improved fisheries management and governance could make the sector become highly profitable economic enterprise, able to support the economic and social development of Africa.
He said “with rising global demand for seafood, the potential profits in this sector will be high over the next few decades, and aquaculture will play an important role in meeting the escalating global and regional demand and this clearly opens a wide window.
He stated that a sustainable and inclusive development of the fisheries sector requires good governance, transparency and accountability in the form of reliable contracts and access allocation. He said such effort would help support shared prosperity by avoiding rent seeking, transfer-pricing practices, corruption and illegal fishing.
Seesay pointed out that with the situation in the fishing sector in Africa, the fisheries sector would continue to generate low profits or loss. However he posited that another future is possible for the sector, wherein developing countries and regional leadership can experience real growth and job creation through greater fish resources management.
Concerted international action to protect Africa’s fisheries is urgent because the stakes are high. Illegal fishing is putting the livelihoods and nutrition of millions of people on the continent at risk. Ultimately, this carries serious consequences for the rest of the world too, in terms of a sustainable supply of fish and protection against climate change.
Governments can also improve controls in ports where the fish catch is landed and reported. As Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, who chairs the Africa Progress Panel, has said: “Commercial trawlers that operate under flags of convenience, and unload in ports that do not record their catch, are engaging in organised theft disguised as commerce.”
Illegal fishing is a form of theft that has major costs for the global community Norway for instance has established illegal fishing as a “transnational crime”. This could bring it under the remit of Interpol, with police, customs agencies and justice ministries playing a more active role in enforcement.