Somali Fisheries – Free for all?

Somali Fisheries – Free for all?

There are an abundance of recent reports on the situation of the Somali fisheries prepared by various NGO’s, news networks, charities and local government, albeit mostly unaudited. Unaudited due to the lack of internal infrastructure in Somalia and the inability to accurately measure the massive plunder of Somali fishing grounds being committed by international fishing fleets. The reports, however, are usually presented with good supporting and anecdotal evidence as well as a mass of historical Somali fisheries data and current fisheries data of Somalia’s coastal neighbours.

Estimates are that Somalia’s local fisheries catch accounts for up to 40,000 metric tons annually whereas the illegal fishing of international fishing fleets in Somali waters accounts for up to 200,000 metric tons annually. The methods usually used for illegal fishing are trawling, a non-selective method of fishing and highly damaging to ecosystems; fish of less value, or not the target catch, are usually thrown overboard, meaning the actual catch of the illegal fishing fleets could be far higher, but is simply wasted. There is no doubt that Somali waters are home to some of the richest fishing grounds in Africa with vast potential for fisheries and coastal area development. The waters off its coastline, that run 3,205 kilometres (1,991 miles), are rich in highly commercial species that include yellowfin and long tail tuna, Spanish mackerel, sardines and lobsters, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The sector remains under developed, in part, due to the lack of skills of skilled Somali fisherman to venture out into deeper waters and the lack of suitable boats and equipment required for such undertakings, which in turn.

This is clearly due to a lack of targeted investment from the international community and here lies the irony – when piracy in the region was front page news, many European politicians hung their hats on the need to eradicate the piracy to protect the international shipping industry, with the main European hub being in London.

Now with the threat of piracy all but apparently gone, there seems justified frustration by the artisan fishing community that measures taken to address the illegal fishing seemed to have been less successful than envisaged. Competing agencies and a fragile legal framework leaves a question mark over how effectively the problem of illegal fishing is able to be addressed. This leaves the door ajar to fisherman with families to feed to revisit the arena of piracy or for organised crime to encourage piracy.

According to an investigation by the Economist in 2013: It was estimated that between $339m and $413m was paid in ransoms off the Somali coast between 2005 and 2012. The average haul was $2.7m. Ordinary pirates usually get $30,000-75,000 each, with a bonus of up to $10,000 for the first man to board a ship and for those bringing their own weapon or ladder.

The cost of Piracy of piracy has been estimated at US$3.2 Billion in 2013 down from US$6 Billion in 2012 by Oceans Beyond Piracy. Annual investment in Somalia’s fisheries is in millions of dollars. It needs billions for infrastructure to commercialise. Even when agencies (government) are able to apprehend a vessel that is operating illegally, the responsible owner or country may not have to accept responsibility due to the complex structures that are able to be wrapped around boat and yacht ownership. If the vessel’s owners or the responsible country then refuse to acknowledge boat ownership, it may well be difficult to prove ownership, if not impossible: in the same way. Enforcing any fine then becomes difficult if not impossible.

Somali Fisheries – Free for all?
It is very easy for ship and yacht owners to hide ownership or change jurisdiction of ownership to suit their purposes. If on the other hand, the vessel is not apprehended and only monitored taking part in illegal fishing, it is virtually impossible to get any justice – owners of fishing vessels who routinely fish illegally are very aware of this. The only deterrent is that of damage to their primary asset in the circumstances, for example, – i.e. the fishing vessel; currently Somali fisheries have no deterrent.

Perhaps more thought has to be given to preventing the same situation, as that originally caused the piracy, from developing again. One thing we have been reminded of is the significance of the horn of Africa through its impact on international trade when that region’s stability as a shipping route is jeopardised.

The cost of piracy needs to be balanced against the cost of preventing piracy. There is a willingness to help it seems, but the true intentions of some interest groups receiving funding seems to be grey. There is progress being made – but at a largely it seems to be at a painfully slow rate as a result of lack of resources being allocated to the task, especially when one compares the resources allocated to the effect (, i.e. piracy) as opposed to the cause. The cause, it is fairly as widely acknowledged, was that when in 1991, the then ruling power of Somalia led by Mohamed Said Barre imploded and in turn led to the plunder of Somali fishing grounds by international fleets which the local fisherman were helpless to prevent due to the collapse of former institutions designed to protect the fisheries.

Frustration ensued and piracy developed. The lack of employment and the lack of security for both the fishermen and their trade meant that piracy was not only a moral justification for them to take to piracy but take, but it also developed inherent investment market in piracy. Somalia needs an effective deterrent to illegal fishing. This means an effective coastal fisheries protection force, which will enforce its valuable fisheries rights and Exclusive Economic Zone. The international community is enforcing anti piracy anti-piracy at great cost without thinking about the root causes. There is an arms embargo, which does not take into account the anti-piracy problem.

The root cause of illegal fishing is the inability of the Somali authorities to police its own fisheries territory. Furthermore, an absence of the enormous investments needed to develop Somalia’s fisheries compound the current situation, which if addressed would help develop and benefit the Somali economy. The root cause is the inability of Somali authorities to police its own fisheries territory. It is also the root cause that Somalis needs enormous investments to develop their fisheries. This will help Somalia develop and benefit from this potential for its economy. Opening international markets to Somali fisheries is the best solution. It is better than piracy returning.



Julian Jesson
Managing Director Simpson Marine and expert in Marine & Coastal Development and Technology.

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