Somalia, a country with the longest coastline in Africa accessing the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden with a length of 3,330 km but sadly remains the country’s most untapped resource. If well exploited, the fish market in Somalia alone can help in achieving global and national sustainable food security plus generate national income from international trade.
For a country that has witnessed civil war and still facing instability, the coastline would have been exploited to provide both selves and paid employment from aquaculture related activities and hence alleviating the youth from abysmal poverty.
The Somali waters are known for; Yellowfin tuna, Bigeye tuna, Skipjack tuna, Cephalopodan, Tropical Spiny lobster, Swordfish, Albacore, and Sharks among other fish that fetch high market prices.
It is argued that the main reason why the Somali waters that is home to some of the richest fishing grounds in Africa remain untapped today is that, fish is not a staple food among the local communities despite it being culturally acceptable and considered halal.
Part of Somalia having being colonized by Italians, culturally developed a habit of eating spaghetti, locally known as pasta, rice (baris), and red meat preferably camel meat that is popular for both its meat and milk, which they believe is more nutritious than cow or goat milk. And anytime is tea time. Somali shaah redolent with spices.
All these are contributing factors of having the coastline underutilized and hence making the fish market in Somalia a real non-starter.
However, over the years, various organizations have tried to change the scenario with the aim of changing the lives of the locals including sensitization of the health benefits of fish and its products as an alternative to the norm.
Among the organizations is the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO with the support of the European Union, that for years has been registering thousands of fishermen who operate off the shores of Puntland.
According to information made public on its website, FAO says; ‘The exercise which is done through a biometrics system, encapsulates vital personal information of each fisherman, including photographs and fingerprints. This information will then be used to develop special identity cards which will be carried by the fishermen while at sea.
It will also act as a critical database for the Ministry of Fisheries, security and anti-piracy forces (both local and international) and local fishermen associations as they gather data on the exact number and location of fisherfolk in the area’.
Through that initiative launched 3 years ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization has been able to provide the Somali Fisheries Ministry with the necessary software for registering the fishermen. It has also provided training, financial and supervisory support to both the fishermen and the ministry officials.
Challenges facing the fishing industry in Somalia
Foreign vessels’ theft
Most of the fishermen in Somalia especially Bosaso and Puntland where the precious Tuna and Marlin fish are caught, expressed their displeasure by the fact that they cannot compete with the large foreign boats and ships that troll their waters catching almost all the fishes both deep sea and close to the shores.
SMDC spoke to the Director Seafarers’ Assistance Programme Mr. Andrew Mwangura who confirmed that the foreign fishing ships have been a major challenge facing the fishing sector in the larger Somalia coastline.
“The foreign ships sail from as far as Iran taking advantage of the instability of Somalia government hence cannot be controlled. This is not illegal fishing but looting on an industrial scale’, said Mwangura.
“The local fishermen have small motorboats and canoes hence can only fish a certain amount of fish for consumption and or for retail. The few foreign vessels that are licensed to fish in the Somalia waters get their fishing permits under questionable if not dubious means from Somalia government officials” he added.
Although the situation has changed drastically for the better, a percentage of the fishermen still feel insecure hence have not gone full-blown in their fishing activities.
A decade ago, before insurgents took over, pirates were causing havoc to both foreign and local fishing vessels. The pirates would attack and hijack especially oil and other commercial ships before demanding millions of shillings as ransom.
“The situation was terrible. At one go, you would have close to 20 foreign ships, sailors hijacked by the pirates off the Horn of Africa, and who stood their ground on millions of dollars as ransom. They made a killing”, says Mwagura who is also a negotiator between pirates and ship owners off the coast of Africa.
However, things have since changed after the international community intervened plus efforts by the local navies including the Puntland Maritime Police Force, which guards the waters off Bosaso.
With emerging trends, local fishermen in Somalia have found it difficult to cope with their counterparts using foreign boats that are larger and have modern technology.
The foreign boast can do deep sea and in one round, can collect tons of fish since they have longer and modern nets for fishing.
The locals lack fishing skills required to go deep sea to fish for commercial purposes. They also lack fishing gear to enable make their tasks a success.
Apart from the fishing challenges in the larger Somalia, lack of a proper market and storage facilities have been associated with the current situation. A good example is the Bosaso Port that lacks modern equipment e.g. refrigerators to prepare fish in a clean, healthy environment for export.
Somalia also lacks a strong and dependable system for exporting Somali fish overseas.
Amid the power vacuum, illegal foreign fishers have taken advantage of the situation and have since undermined the Somali coastal by driving unfair and unmanaged competition for finite natural resources.
This has in turn resulted in illegal trawling hence destroying sensitive habitats. With unregulated fishing, the stocks have reduced drastically making fishing a non-economic activity.
Most of the actions taken by the Somalia government on matters fishing have done more harm than good to the sector.
A year ago, Somalia granted fishing licenses to 31 Chinese vessels to exploit tuna and tuna-like species off its coast in a bid to tap the sector for economic growth. The vessels are associated with the China Overseas Fisheries Association.
However, the foreign fishing vessels were also not to be permitted to operate between 24 nautical miles (44 kilometers) to the seaward side of the Somali baseline
Lack of knowledge
A Voxpops by SMDC revealed that most of the Somali community members have minimal knowledge or equipment on how to cook and preserve fish with some saying eating the meat while separating the bones is hectic.
Efforts so far
Despite the current situation, various efforts are still in place to change the scenario including media publicity and NGOs sensitizing the locals on the importance of fishing for commercial gains, nutritional values, and as alternative food in the emerging food security crisis.
FAO has been training youths on deep-sea fishing, provided better and modern fishing equipment. The same organization has also trained fishmongers on how to preserve fish naturally which includes salting and sun-drying to be later sold in inland Somalia.
Late October 2018, SMDC, with the support of the German International Development Agency GIZ, organized a one-day roadshow in Kismayo, Somalia, to encourage families living in and around the coastal city to start including fish in their diets plus generate income from fishing.
For a country that for decades has been facing recurring famines and food crises due to droughts, poor government policies, or inaction amid civil war, fishing remains the country’s beacon of hope for food security and poverty alleviation.