With local fishermen in Somalia struggling to compete with foreign boats that are ravaging fishing stocks, the government has granted 31 fishing licenses to China. Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has given fishing rights to foreigners for the first time since he became president last year. The China Overseas Fisheries Association, which represents 150 companies, will be allowed to fish for tuna in Somali waters.
A brief history of illegal fishing on Somalian waters can have its origins traced back to 1991, after the overthrow of President Siad Barre, and the disintegration of Somalia into clan-based fiefdoms that followed. Foreign ships took advantage of a lack of a central government to use prohibited fishing methods like drifts, dynamiting, breaking coral reefs and destroying the coral habitats where lobsters and other coralfish live, reports the Inter Press Service News Agency.
These foreign vessels were mostly from India, Yemen, Spain, Japan, and Pakistan and accrued a lot of revenue from their activities while the local people suffered in terms of depletion of seafood resources, lack of jobs and environmental degradation.
A United Nations report in 2006 said that, in the absence of the country’s at one time serviceable coastguard, Somali waters have become the site of an international “free for all,” with fishing fleets from around the world illegally plundering Somali stocks and freezing out the country’s own rudimentarily-equipped fishermen. According to another U.N. report, an estimated $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from the country’s coastline each year; TIME previously reported
For over a decade, local fishermen have attempted to take matters into their own hands to protect their livelihoods, but they often become violent and turn to pirates after getting familiar with the shared spoils on the sea, on foreign boats, and the despicably lucrative business of kidnapping foreigners and demanding ransoms.
This move raises a genuine concern about the Somalian fishing stocks getting depleted and the livelihoods of local fishermen in a state of flux. However, Somali Fisheries Ministry Adviser, Abdirahman Ahmed told BBC Focus on Africa that up to 24 nautical miles [44km] off the coast are reserved for local fishermen. He also assured that under the license agreement, the ministry can call the ships to the port at any time for inspections.
Theoretically, it seems like a move that will be of great benefit the local Somalian fishermen, but as we know about most things that transpire on this continent, the theoretical and practical are quite far apart, more so when China is involved.