Illegal fishing bleeds marine resources


Windhoek ‑  Namibia and countries along the West African coastline’s fisheries industries are “paying a heavy price” in loss of potential revenue and dwindling stocks due to lack of capacity for surveillance and monitoring of illegal fishing.

Lack of capacity to monitor strict adherence to quotas results in vessels fishing well beyond licensed quotas, while illegal fishing vessels exploit the resources at will, in barely monitored and policed West African waters, Professor Daniel Pauly, a fisheries specialist from University of British Columbia, said in a telephone interview from Swakopmund.

Revenue from fishing sector, which could be reinvested into surveillance and monitoring systems, is being redirected to other sectors of the economy or “lost through mismanagement and often cases, corruption, especially in West Africa”, Pauly said.

“Surveillance systems to monitor vessels, which break the rules, and external illegal fishing is very expensive and if vessels are not monitored they tend to go beyond their quotas. In most West African countries surveillance and monitoring is almost zero, most African countries don’t even have a single vessel, or even a small craft,” Pauly, who spoke at the Global Large Marine Ecosystem Conference, held in Swakopmund a week ago, said.

“Togo, Benin, and even Nigeria do not have one single good vessel. Between 10 to 20 percent of revenue from fishing should be reinvested into the sector, but usually its near zero, the money isn’t there,” Pauly said.

Namibia has capacity to monitor fishing vessels in its waters “but it can always benefit from an increase”, Pauly said.

“To monitor each vessel, such capacity is expensive. Surveillance systems where nobody can escape is very expensive. But there is a heavy price to pay for not having surveillance systems. The country can benefit if vessels rule breaking can be prevented. What is needed is to balance costs against the benefits,” Pauly said.

Namibia’s ‘Legacy Problem’

 “If licensed vessels are not monitored, they tend to overfish, Pauly warned. “One good source of revenue is each fish should pay for its own surveillance and if governments don’t invest in monitoring and surveillance, then everybody loses,” Pauly said.

Whilst Namibia could be lauded for a well-managed quota system, the country still has a “legacy problem” with regards to its fisheries resources.

Before independence, Namibia suffered from a rush for its resources from international companies, risking depleting the marine resources.

“There was so much fishing to the extent of threatening the eco-system,” Pauly said.

A conservative approach to managing the fish resources through the quota system is beginning to pay off, Pauly said.

“Overfishing took place before independence and the country should continuously focus on rebuilding stocks,” Pauly said.

Namibia’s peers along the West African coastline have a myriad of problems emanating from overfishing by both legalised and illegal fishing vessels.

This is partly due to absence of monitoring mechanisms, and the fact that governments do not have quota systems and vessels are given periods of time when they should conduct fishing.

Namibia is also fortunate to have an arid coastline which is mostly inhabitable, unlike in West Africa where fishing villages are located along coastlines.

This has the result of creating a situation where there is uncontrollable fishing which is difficult to account for.

Furthermore, the presence of big international fishing vessels creates unfair competition with mostly locally owned smaller fishing vessels in many West African countries, Pauly said.

In Namibia, famed for its hake fish, the sector generated R5.2 billion in revenue in 2012, contributing 3.7 percent to gross domestic product from 3.9 percent in 2011, Bernard Esau, Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister said in March. The sector, whose quota was set at 519 606 metric tons for 2014, employed 13 854 people in 2013, Esau said.

October 2014
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