By Safiya Hassan, GLOBUS Correspondent
Fishing has quickly become one of Africa’s fastest growing industries, with fisheries found to contribute $24 billion directly to the continent’s economy, accounting for 1.1% of total African GDP. The growth in demand is thought to be spearheaded by China’s trade expansion, in its quest to feed its ever-growing population. However, this has led to coastlines becoming vulnerable to rapid and illegal overfishing, with a losses estimated at well over $2 billion dollars annually in West Africa alone, due to dwindling fish population. Many argue this is purported predominantly by unregulated foreign trawlers, weaving a web of mass scale corruption and violence.
Thirty thousand kilometres long, and home to a record breaking 3000 known indigenous species, Africa enjoys miles upon miles of untouched pristine waters. However, in a study conducted by The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they found that within 1,288 species, 37 of those assessed were critically endangered, with many species following closely. Growing endangerment of Africa’s sea life could exacerbate existing food insecurity, causing disastrous dietary impacts on 40% of the region’s population, with fish being a major source of protein. In the face of such uncertainty, many locals point towards increasing foreign traffic as a central culprit. 79% of industrial fishing conducted in African waters was found to be carried out by vessels registered abroad, with China and Taiwan accounting for almost a half. Such vessels often take advantage of weaker regulation and social instability, in order deploy trawlers without permits. These can often cause harm to the seabed, resulting in the destruction of habitats, and damage to the nets of local fishermen.
For example, in 2007, the International Maritime Bureau, a body of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) specialising in monitoring maritime crimes such as fraud, cargo theft and piracy, observed an increase in hijacking and attacks along in Somalia, home to the longest coastline in mainland Africa. A media frenzy followed, aggravated further by the hijacking of further high-profile ships. Due to the political importance of the strait, many reports emerged of kidnappings or political intervention from foreign powers, amidst which, the violence brought the world’s attention to a larger issue, illegal fishing. The anarchy in the region allowed free access to clandestine ships to fish excessively, often also leading to a build-up of toxic waste in the waters. This, in turn, depleted fish stocks, rendering some towns and villages to the brink of starvation. Eventually, piracy became eradicated along the Eastern coast. However, such stories continue to surface, such as that of Ghana where, in 2017, only 40% of fish were found to be caught legally. This has lead to a prediction of a possible collapse of staple fish stocks in the nation by as early as 2020.
Despite such figures, however, many coastal nations take advantage of their fish abundant waters, by actually inviting foreign fleets. If well-managed, this can boost public revenues and contribute to the development of ports and fishery infrastructure. These agreements, when mutual, can bring an overall economic benefit to both parties involved. However, such arrangements have also been known to facilitate corruption, with profits being directed towards politicians selling and falsifying permits.