Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a global problem that occurs both on the high seas and within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of coastal states. IUU fishing is an economic and environmental problem that costs the global economy up to $23 billion a year. Developing countries are disproportionately affected by this crime, in part due to a lack of monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) capacity within their sovereign jurisdiction.
The issue of IUU fishing is particularly complicated for Somalia due to its unique set of challenges, which includes a newly declared EEZ, lack of capacity to monitor and protect its maritime domain, and minimal scientific data on fisheries resources.
Somalia only recently, in June 2014, declared its EEZ in line with UNCLOS. Somalia did not previously have internationally recognized authority over its offshore waters (between 12 and 200 nautical miles). As a result, foreign fishing in these waters, while exploitative in nature, was not illegal. It was, however, unregulated and often unreported. With the recent declaration of the EEZ, fishing vessels seeking to fish in Somali waters are now required to purchase a license. While this is a big step in the right direction, it does not overcome the challenges of IUU fishing in Somalia’s waters.
Somalia’s newly recognized EEZ does not yet have the infrastructure in place to effectively manage its living marine resources. The lack of capacity to regulate and document fishing activities may allow unreported and unregulated fishing to continue. Alternatively, the recognition of the EEZ may facilitate greater regional cooperation to combat IUU fishing since it was in part Somalia’s previous legal ambiguity that made it difficult to include Somali waters in regional MCS efforts.
MCS and enforcement capacity are crucial to combatting IUU fishing. Somalia, like many other developing nations, does not currently have the capacity to monitor and control its maritime domain. This gap in maritime capacity, demonstrated by the absence of an official coast guard or other authority with MCS capacity, leaves Somali waters unregulated and unprotected. This unregulated environment allows foreign fishers to fish with perceived impunity. Furthermore, it is the perception among many Somalis that it was this lack of capacity to protect their fisheries resources that led to a surge in piracy in the early 21st century.
Ultimately, IUU fishing must be combatted regionally. Boats engaged in illegal fishing will operate in multiple countries waters and often land their catch in adjacent countries or transfer their catch to reefer boats at sea. Reefer boats collect fish from numerous fishing vessels. They may stay at sea for multiple months before landing their mixed catch at distant ports. Regional MCS efforts are currently underway to combat IUU fishing in the Western Indian Ocean region; however, Somalia is currently not an active participant in these initiatives.
An additional challenge in combatting IUU fishing in Somalia stems from the fact that their fisheries data is outdated and unreliable, which makes it difficult to quantify the level of IUU fishing. When last reported in 2005, the UN FAO identified 700 vessels that were actively fishing unlicensed and unregulated in Somalia’s tuna-filled waters. This absence of data creates obstacles for the management and conservation of Somali fisheries. Without knowing the status of stocks, it is difficult to manage marine resources and develop a fisheries licensing scheme that ensures sustainability.
The need for scientific data and the infrastructure to collect it became more pressing with the declaration of an EEZ. With Somali waters now ‘open for business,’ there are not regulations for how many boats can be licensed, who can license them, how much they can catch and the methods they can use, thus expanding the need for data collection and an informed national management plan.
While there are numerous challenges, combatting IUU fishing remains a top priority of Somali authorities who are determined to secure their living marine resources. Somali authorities have already begun taking positive steps such as declaring their EEZ and joining the IOTC. Additionally, with piracy’s continued decline, the maritime community can begin to turn its attention to identifying and combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Somali waters and Western Indian Ocean region.
For an overview of initiatives aimed at combatting IUU fishing in Somalia and the greater Western Indian Ocean region, please click here.