"Eating fish caught by a vessel that is opaque about its catch often amounts to eating fish from activities related to forced labour, that have been used to provide cover for human trafficking and the transportation of drugs."
Behind that warning made by Olusegun Obasanjo, president of Nigeria from 1999-2008, in an opinion piece published in October 2017 on the Monde Afrique website, lies the urgency to achieve transparent governance of African fisheries.
After attempting to achieve this with national responses, African States are now engaged in a collective approach through implementation of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI).
On the model of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), FiTI is intended to be a kind of code of conduct involving States, civil society, development partners and operators in the fisheries sector. It provides, in each member country, for the publication of all fisheries legislation and contracts.
"The challenge is to ensure total transparency of fishing activities in a country. To do this, it is essential to have complete publication of fishing permits, since it is on the basis of these very agreements that fishing activities take place," explained FiTI focal point to the African Development Bank Jean-Louis Kromer.
With the support of Peter Eigen, former president of Transparency International and an iconic EITI figure, a draft FiTI Charter was drawn up further to discussions between different stakeholders and validated at a plenary session held in April 2017 in Bali, Indonesia.
The FiTI Secretariat, until now hosted for free by the German NGO Humbolt-Viadrina Governance Platform, will be transferred from Berlin to Victoria, the Seychelles, in 2018 at the invitation of the Government of the Seychelles. As soon as it is in place, the International Secretariat will have to take on the immense challenge of funding its operation. There is currently no solid mobilization pathway to this funding.
And, according to several well-placed sources, if the issue of the operating budget of the International Secretariat is not fully resolved, the future of FiTI itself could be compromised.
Africa first in line
As with the extractive industries, a State that wishes to join FiTI must submit a formal application to the Secretariat, which then opens the independent evaluation procedure to ensure that it fully meets all the eligibility criteria.
Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal and the Seychelles have already informed the Secretariat of their desire to become members of FiTI. They are joined in their approach by Indonesia. For the four African countries, the challenge of joining the initiative is huge, due to the importance of the fisheries sector to their economies.
To mark its interest in this process, the African Development Bank financed a workshop to provide information on and validate the FiTI Charter on June 26 and 27, 2017 in Victoria, the Seychelles, for representatives of States and civil society and private sector actors from seven island and coastal countries in the Indian Ocean Region.
Under the FiTI Charter, an independent evaluation of candidacy should be the subject of national consultations at workshops attended by all stakeholders: government representatives, private sector representative and civil society actors.
Beyond its keen interest in effective implementation of FiTI, the AfDB Group is helping its regional members gain the maximum benefit from their fisheries resources, particularly through initiatives promoted by the African Natural Resources Centre (ANRC).
Established at the AfDB headquarters in Abidjan, ANRC helps African States to focus on integrated development and the conservation of their natural resources by placing an emphasis on planning and conservation. It also supports their efforts for the good governance of natural resources, urging them to give preference to the transparent and participatory negotiation of contracts that take account of the local context.
The dividends of FiTI
It will, therefore, take a long time for the four African States to be declared FiTI-compliant. The certification they receive should have a positive impact on the images of the respective Governments. At the national level, certification will help them respond to the various criticisms made by civil society around the transparency deficit in the allocation of fishing permits. Abroad, admission to FiTI will work as a badge of transparency likely to arouse the interest of the business community. Indeed, full publication of contracts is a guarantee of transparency that also reflects the will to effectively combat corruption and manage fish stock on a sustainable basis.
More specifically, admission to FiTI should lead to new investments in the fisheries sector.
"The publication of contracts will help potential investors gain a better view of opportunities available. For example, if an investor knows that another investor has been authorized to catch 10,000 tonnes of sardines in a particular country and that the margin for increase of the total allowable catch for that species is limited, the investor will apply for a permit to fish a different species," added Jean-Louis Kromer.
The arrival of new investors presents enormous economic challenges for African countries that derive significant revenue from fishing. This particularly applies to Senegal, which exported nearly 192,000 tonnes of fish products in 2016, or 14.6% of the country's overall export volume. A sign of its importance, the fisheries sector contributed nearly 204 billion FCFA to the national budget that same year. In Senegal, as in Guinea, Mauritania and the Seychelles, the dividends from fishing are likely to see significant growth after completion of the process of joining FiTI.
FiTI membership would also likely make an indirect contribution to reducing illegal fishing. However, to put an end to this scourge that affects the whole continent to one degree or another, States will have to agree to pool their human and technical resources. In all events, there is no alternative available to provide better monitoring of national maritime borders and sustainable management of marine resources. The African Charter on Maritime Security, adopted in Lomé in October 2016 at an extraordinary summit of the African Union on maritime security and safety strongly, encourages them to do so.