Legal experts and local fishing groups have warned that a deal between the Somali government and a consortium of Chinese companies will be difficult to regulate, may encourage piracy and could lead to the levels of overfishing seen in West Africa.
The Somali minister of fisheries, Abdillahi Bidhan, who signed it in December 2018, has confirmed the details of the deal, in which Chinese companies paid a total of US$1 million to fish within Somali waters off north-east Africa twice a year.
“We have conducted the signing of 31 offshore tuna licenses to FOCA [the consortium] in a transparent manner. Anyone applying for a tuna licence must go through the requisite process upon which we will inspect their vessels,” Bidhan said.
According to the ministry of fisheries website, the deal allows 31 Chinese long-line vessels to fish for “tuna and tuna-like species” for one year, a deal that automatically renews each year.
The vessels will be able to fish 24 nautical miles from shore within Somali territorial waters. However, the government was reluctant to declare the full terms of the contract, according to Mohamud Nur Hasan, a member of parliament’s sub-committee on fisheries and natural resources, who also represents fisheries communities in the Lower Shabelle region in the southern part of the country.
“The deal will certainly impact our local fishermen who depend on fishing for their livelihood,” the lawmaker said. “Chinese vessels have poured into African waters to get nice seafood for trade, degrading fish stocks.” He highlighted the environmental impact of such contracts.
“We worry [about] overfishing, destruction of fish species and availability of the tuna which the Chinese were granted to catch. In the long term this deal is not benefiting Somalis,” Hasan added. “Chinese trawlers have already destroyed parts of the ocean floor in West African countries.”
Overfishing in West Africa continues to threaten food security, natural ecosystems and local economies. China is the largest fishing power, with more than 500 industrial fishing vessels operating in the region’s waters.
It is estimated that around 54% of local fish stocks are overfished, with illegal fishing accounting for almost 40% of all fish caught.
Local fishing communities operating from Mogadishu’s Liido beach – although worried about their catch – seemed unaware of issues such as habitat degradation and pollution that may directly impact the fish stocks they depend on for income.
Abdirahman Omar Osman, a Mogadishu-based environmental activist and lawyer, says lack of ecological protection and the government’s weak or ineffective policies make it difficult to manage the fishing sector.
He warned this is providing an opportunity for some Chinese companies that are believed to overfish in many African countries and elsewhere.
“Overfishing by Chinese trawlers has cost thousands of jobs in West Africa. Thousands of fishers were left idle in their hometowns.
Now if they come to Somalia, they will ruin the local fishers and destroy our waters,” he said. Osman also warns the deal could make possible the return of Somali pirate groups, whose hijackings of global maritime vessels have been halted since 2012
Source: China Dialogue Ocean