Dr. Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre and Mohammed Seisay of the African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources, made this observation in a presentation at the African Development Forum (ADF VIII) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Forum was held October 23 to 25, 2012 under the theme; “Governing and Harnessing Natural Resources for Africa’s Development”.
Speaking on the topic ‘Harnessing Fishery Resources: Swimming the Tide to Africa’s Development’ they called on countries to stay within environmental limits, because that is essential for meeting the goals of sustainable wealth creation from fisheries in Africa.
They also urged the acquisition of adequate knowledge on the state of fish stocks and the ecosystems that support them, because the fish sector is very important for the people.
The African continent is not poor. Africa’s fisheries sector is a huge source of wealth and nourishment for its people, but unsustainable fishing practices is denying African countries revenue and could pose a threat to food security.
The importance of the fisheries sector cannot be overemphasized. The sector plays a crucial role for coastal nations across the continent, contributing to food security, income generation and national economies.
Marine fisheries along Africa’s 30,490 km coastline, for instance supports the livelihoods of millions of citizens, according to NEPAD.
Fish is also a highly traded commodity and it is one of the leading export commodities for Africa, with an annual export value of nearly $3 billion. In addition to its direct food value, fish also contributes indirectly to Africa’s food self-sufficiency through trade and exports to the European Union, Asia and other countries, NEPAD adds.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), about 4.5, 2.3 and 0.76 million tons of fish are caught in African marine ecosystems, inland waters and fish farms, respectively, delivering gross annual revenues (first sale) of close to $5 billion and supporting the jobs and livelihoods of about 3.6 million people.
Unsustainable fishing practices, however, pose a threat to the fisheries sector in Africa.
While the global loss of fish through unsustainable fishing practices is about 20 million tons, Africa’s loss is put at one million tons every year.
The most common catch is small pelagic species such as herrings and sardines with the large pelagic tuna like species also making a significant contribution, especially in the Indian Ocean. Marine catches also include demersal species such as cod, hake, haddock, and crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, shrimps, prawns, krill and molluscs such as abalones, conchs, oysters, mussels and scallops, it’s been reported.
It is estimated that fishing in African waters is managed by 200nm Exclusive Economic Zones where generally private licenses, joint ventures and access agreements with foreign vessels are the means of managing the larger commercial vessels, while many smaller coastal fisheries are still open access.
West Africa is said to be one of the most diverse, and economically important, fishing zones in the world.
Total landings of fish in the West African marine region, is said to have risen from 600,000 tons in 1960 to 4.5 million by 2000.
In the face of the challenges and threats, Dr. Sumaila and Mr. Seisay arguing that it is important to understand the immense value of Africa’s fishery resources to the continent, also called for the need to strengthen fisheries management especially, monitoring, control and surveillance.
“Reconciling Africa’s development goals within the environmental limits over the long term, in the case of fish could lead to increase in fish protein, create more jobs, generate income and profits for many people,” they said.
The FAO for instance has stated that despite its under-recording by official statistics for small-scale and subsistence fisheries, fish contribution to animal protein supply is quite high in many African countries, thus enhancing food security at the household level.
“It is as high as 36 per cent in Cameroon, ranges between 42 and 44.5 per cent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Senegal and Uganda, and is well over 58 per cent in Ghana and 65 per cent in Sierra Leone,” it said.
In addition to unsustainable fishing practices, the use of subsidies is said to be harmful to the fisheries sector in Africa.
“Subsidies should rarely be used, and if they must, they must be those that do no harm to resources,” say Sumaila and Seisay
On policy issues, they urged that African countries engage only in mutually beneficial global trade, access agreements that are ecologically sustainable and practice only sustainable aquaculture that contributes to fish protein supply and increases food security while generating wealth.
The two also called on African countries to rally together to strengthen their common voice and position on fisheries and to also remember women who are a very important part of the fisheries sector in Africa.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi