Past, present and future perspectives


Eastern Africa is unusual in that its coastal fish production is low in relation to the surface area and potential productivity of its fisheries, in spite of large amounts of nutrients made available by coastal upwelling resulting from the Somali Current. The coastal fishery yield for the entire eastern and south-eastern African coast, including the Western Indian Ocean Islands, represents less than 1 per cent of global landings and most of the coastal fish stocks of the subregion are considered to be fully exploited or overexploited (FAO 1997).

Destructive fishing practices pose a threat to coastal fisheries and coral reefs. Use of dynamite, pullseine nets, poisons, and heavy pressure on selected species and juveniles are widespread along the Eastern African coast, contributing to decline of the ecosystem. However, national and international pressure to ban these practices has stimulated the empowerment of local communities to monitor and manage their resources (Obura, Suleiman, Motta & Schleyer 2000).

The countries of the Eastern African coast are the main exploiters of their coastal waters, but their EEZ is being increasingly harvested by foreign fleets from Europe and Eastern Asia. Somalia is experiencing an extreme case of this, as outlined in Box 2c.2. Reported catches by foreign nations increased dramatically in the early 1990s, with the Republic of Korea, Japan, France, Taiwan and Spain playing a major role (Okemwa 1998). Shark populations are declining rapidly with consequent drops in shark-fin catches by fishermen from Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan. Most shark fishing is illegal and also impacts on turtles, dolphins and finfish which get caught in the nets and lines. Lack of surveillance and enforcement is a contributing factor (Pilcher & Alsuhaibany 2000).

Box 2c.2 Somali fisheries require international control

Somalia has one of the longest coastlines of any African country-around 3 300 km. Highly productive upwelling provides significant potential for the development of offshore tuna fisheries. However, the fall of Somalia's government, in 1991, left the country without a central government or control of its waters. Control has been assumed by self-promoted militia, some of whom have made controversial fishing arrangements with foreign countries, whilst others operate like pirates demanding ransoms from foreign vessels. Although these are highly dangerous waters, access to Somali fisheries is now virtually open, driven principally by foreign interests and demand for high-value tuna, shark and ray fins, lobster, deepwater shrimp and demersal whitefish. Harvesting rates are thus not known and it is not possible to determine whether marine resources are being harvested sustainably or not. Furthermore, the years of civil conflict have damaged the fisheries infrastructure, and have reduced previous oil spill response capability, aids to navigation, and search and rescue capacity.

Somalia is party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), UNCLOS, and the Nairobi and Jeddah Regional Seas Conventions. However, few of the provisions of these treaties are being implemented since the breakdown of national governance, and Somalia is looking to the international community to assist with implementation and enforcement of regulations. The current challenge is to develop a regional institutional proposal to address the situation.

Yemeni stern trawler (unflagged) fishing illegally with warps visible, 1.5 miles off Bossasso, 28 February 1998


Source & photo: Coffen-Smout 1998

Sustainable harvesting of coastal and marine resources in Eastern Africa

Eastern African countries are party to the 1982 UNCLOS which establishes fishing rights, and to international agreements on harvesting limits and areas. However, countries in the sub-region, like many African countries, lack both the infrastructure to exploit their own territories and the capacity to police and monitor the activities of international fleets or unsustainable harvesting rates. In addition, fishing agreements with foreign countries have been poorly defined, based on the need by African states for income and foreign exchange.

In Eritrea, marine resource harvesting is being regulated as peace returns to the area, through development of formal management procedures. Similar efforts are anticipated in Somalia. In Kenya, the MPA system is managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service and extends over 5 per cent of the coastline. There are two types of protection: full protection in marine parks, and the traditional resource harvesting allowed in marine reserves. Tourism is the main activity at all sites, and plans are underway to involve local communities and other stakeholders in the management of some areas (Obura and others 2000).