Not only is fishery an important provider of protein, it is also an important source of income. And for many African countries, it is the most important export product. In many areas, however, artisanal fishery in particular is threatened – by competition from major fishing fleets as well as by the wide range of factors putting pressure on the marine ecosystem. What can be done to preserve fish stocks and make fishery in Africa more sustainable?
This was the question addressed at the 4th Innovation Dialogue on the Future of Rural Regions in Africa, focusing on the topic of “Empty seas or a great potential? Options for action towards sustainable fishery”, held by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in cooperation with Bread for the World in Berlin/Germany early in November 2019 in the context of the One World – No Hunger Initiative run by Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
World-wide consumption of fish and fisheries products has been on the increase for years. In 1961, per capita consumption of fish was at nine kilograms, while in 2017 it was already at 20.5 kilograms – with a tendency to rise further. Experts estimate that currently, around 30 per cent of the oceans are overfished. At the same time, fish stocks are going to decline by a further 25 per cent owing to the water warming up. Nicole Franz of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) referred to some other figures. By 2016, capture fisheries and aquaculture production had reached a record level of 171 million tonnes world-wide – compared to 16 million tonnes in 1961. Today, around 47 per cent of all fish comes from aquaculture, which employs 19.3 million people. The rest originates from marine and inland fisheries, in which a total of 40.3 million people are employed. The trend towards more aquaculture management also has a direct impact on nutrition, according to Franz. She explained in Berlin that part of the fish that had previously been directly available for human consumption was now brought to an increasingly large number of fish processing plants, the reason for this being that fish oil or fishmeal was being used as feed in more and more animal production systems.
“Furthermore, Africa is currently a net exporter of fisheries products. This is also a problem in terms of food security for these countries,” Franz added regarding the significance of fish as a source of protein. Moreover, there in particular, artisanal fishery was an important economic factor. The major share of people living on fishery were in Africa. And women accounted for 50 per cent of the labour force in fisheries. “In most developing countries, women are the strongest link in this fisheries chain for the entire sector,” declared Francisco Marí, Official for World Food Supply, Agricultural Trade and Marine Policy of Bread for the World, and an expert on maritime policy. “They sell the fish, they process it, and they earn the money that has to be advanced for the fishers to buy fuel so that they can sail out in the first place.”
However, their livelihoods were threatened by industrial fishery. “In just one day, a European or Asian fish trawler takes significantly more fish out of the sea than a Mauritanian or Senegalese boat can with the same number of crew in a whole year,” explained Thilo Hoppe, Development Cooperation Official of the organisation Bread for the World. It was difficult for local artisanal small fishers to hold their own given such competition, Hoppe maintained, adding that there were a wide range of other challenges for the sector, starting with illegal fishing and marine pollution, but also including threats such as the expansion of port facilities and tourism projects as well as the already mentioned negative impacts of climate change. He held that the priority had to be to eliminate hunger while maintaining marine biodiversity – a major challenge the mastering of which was not only up to the fishers in Africa.
Managing European waters in a healthier manner and restoring them would reduce fishing pressure exerted by the European fleet outside Europe. This could lower competition between industrial and small-scale fisheries outside Europe, Marí added. And if the fish was not accessible for small-scale fisheries because the stocks were 2.5 nautical miles and more away from the coast, there should be onshore employment in processing.
The BMZ also attaches considerable importance to fisheries. Although just 60 million euros out of the total of around ten billion euros that the BMZ budget adds up to flows into the area of fisheries, with its ten-item plan of 2016, the BMZ has committed itself to increasing Germany’s development cooperation effort in the areas of management of coastal economic zones and marine conservation. Here, maintaining fisheries as a livelihood for the people living in coastal areas as well as promoting sustainable and socially responsible processing and marketing of fish is an important element. Supporting partner countries in stamping out illegal fishing is also on the agenda.
In Berlin, Gunther Beger, Head of the Department for Policy Issues, the Private Sector and Rural Development at the BMZ, pointed to another important activity area. “One third of the entire economic value of fish is subsidies – subsidies only the most minute portion of which is paid in the African countries and most of which is provided by the industrialised countries,” Beger explained. This resulted in the discrepancy between small fishers in the partner countries and large-scale industrial fisheries becoming even larger.
According to Stefanie Kirse, Programme Director of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), there were significantly more protagonists who could contribute to sustainable fishery. “We are encouraging the business partners, that is manufacturers and traders, to change their range of fish articles in order to have more and more sustainable products on sale in the future,” Kirse explained. By opting for products with the MSC seal, consumers could then contribute directly to marine conservation. So far, around 380 fisheries world-wide had been MSC-certified.
One of these traders which Kirse is encouraging is “Metro AG”. Its Corporate Responsibility Director Andrea Weber told the meeting in Berlin that Metro were Europe’s largest fresh fish marketers, selling 200,000 tonnes to around 21 million customers at their more than 700 stores in 36 countries each year. And since Metro were the interface with the consumer, Weber also acknowledged the company’s own responsibility. “We have to think about which fish we will be able to and wish to sell tomorrow,” she noted. “This can only be accomplished with sustainable management.” However, it was also obvious that Metro were not operating entirely altruistically. A balanced relationship always had to be maintained between quality, price, sustainability and availability. It was not possible to concentrate solely on certification, although Metro were enabling customers to decide which products – whether certified or uncertified – they wished to buy.
“There are enough guidelines for these different approaches. Now it is important to get together and work on implementing them,” said FAO expert Franz in her final address. The United Nations has declared 2022 the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture. It can only be hoped that this will not merely draw everyone’s attention to this sector, but that deeds will follow.
Marijke Lass, journalist, Berlin/Germany