Africa loses one million tonnes of fish per year due to overfishing and bad governance in the fisheries sector. The continent's losses account for one-tenth of annual global losses, said Sumaila Rashid, Director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
"That is the equivalent to 10 million cows a year," he said, adding that, "Africa alone is losing one million tonnes a year." According to the fisheries professor, the global fish harvest in 1950 was 10 million tonnes. The tonnage had been growing continually until it levelled in the 1980s at 60 to 70 million tonnes a year.
"The catch is actually declining. We invest more resources to catch less fish," he said in a presentation he made during a roundtable discussion on harnessing fishery resources at the eighth African Development Forum on Wednesday.
If properly managed, fishery can provide more jobs and more income and feed up to 20 million malnourished people in the developing world, according to the presentation. But in order to fully benefit from the sector, the true value of these resources needs to be known; and adequate knowledge needs to be acquired about the state of fish stocks and the ecosystem that supports them, Mr. Rashid said.
As in other natural resources, Africa has been lagging in the use of its fishery resources. Up to 75 per cent of the continent's resources are said to have been over or fully exploited.
Namibia, where marine fisheries contribute five per cent to the national GDP, seems to have a more or less comprehensive policy and strategy dealing with it.
According to Anna Erastus, Director, Policy and Planning, at Namibia's Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, with 70 per cent of the outputs being exported, fishery, which directly employs 13,500 people, is the second most important foreign exchange earner for the country.
Namibia has developed three strategies linked to governance and management of its fisheries industry, she said. These strategies cover issues related to rebuilding of stock, maximization of the benefits of fisheries, and establishment of effective fisheries management in terms of monitoring, control and surveillance systems.
The last strategy is an area which the rest of Africa also needed to strengthen, Mr. Rashid added.
"There is a lot of room in this for regional and international cooperation," he said.
One such partner with experience to share is Norway, which, until recent years, lost about US $180 million due to illegal fishing.
"Traditional at-sea law enforcement is an important part of our enforcement," said Gunnar Stolvik of the Norwegian National Advisory Group against Organized Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing.
Norway has found that vessels that engage in IUU fishing in the North Atlantic also targeted West African waters, a situation which required cooperation between the two regions.
"We want to know who owns, controls and finances illegal operation," Mr. Stolvik said. "It is people with money that finance the operation."
Norway set up a fisheries crime unit at Interpol in February 2012 called Fisheries Crime Working Group (FCWG), which has so far involved several countries, including some from Africa. It had also participated in the establishment of the FCWG in February 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand. Some 20 countries, including Africa states have so far participated in its meetings.
Participants at the roundtable were told that in Namibia, where there are several institutions in place to help and regulate the fisheries sector, some 210 vessels involved in commercial fishing are required to have observers on-board each time they go fishing.