Inland and marine coastal fishery resources in the Eastern and Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean (ESA-IO) region represent a natural wealth of approximately 50 billion euros and could easily generate a gross annual income of approximately 5 billion euros. However, the challenge of sharing exclusive economic zones and lakes has caused disputes and led to unsustainable management of fish stocks, exacerbating inequalities and encouraging corrupt practices. The productivity of inland lakes and lagoons is undermined by overfishing, unethical fishing practices and environmental degradation, which is aggravated by land-based effluents and climate change.
In an effort to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the region and address unsustainability in capture fisheries, the Ecofish Programme was adopted by the five Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) member states and three ESA countries (Kenya, Mozambique and the United Republic of Tanzania).
Towards a Solution
Launched in July 2019, the Ecofish Programme is a multi-faceted undertaking funded by the Eleventh European Development Fund. This cross-regional initiative, which will receive 28 million euros over five years, aims to demonstrate the added value of regional cooperation in attaining sustainable fisheries, with a view to addressing post-harvest losses, maximizing economic and ecological benefits and combating IUU practices.
The Programme is managed jointly by the European Union (EU) Delegation to Mauritius and the IOC Secretariat, in partnership with the Duly Mandated Regional Organisation, regional fisheries bodies and several development partners. The ultimate beneficiaries of the Programme are the 22 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States that are located in the region. Ecofish builds on the achievements, lessons learned and best practices of the SmartFish Programme, funded by the Tenth European Development Fund, and seamless collaboration with other concurrent initiatives to enhance the sustainable management of inland and marine fisheries in the region. The goal of the Programme is to advance economic efficiency, social equity and environmental integrity.
The Ecofish Programme comprises five work plans that are implemented directly or indirectly by EU Mauritius and regional implementing partners. The Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika fisheries constitute the two inland shared fisheries work plans. The IOC Secretariat is responsible for the implementation of the ESA-IO marine fisheries work plan and is also hosting the Programme Integration Management Unit.
Ecofish is poised to effect a significant shift in the regional fisheries landscape by addressing the root causes and problems of overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices, as well as the degradation of fishery ecosystems, through the operationalization of appropriate policy, institutional and governance frameworks at various levels. Special attention is devoted to enforcement and compliance, monitoring, control and surveillance to combat IUU fishing and fisheries-related crimes that exacerbate inequalities among the poorest communities.
The Programme has called for proposals to champion model projects that demonstrate sustainable, inclusionary and climate-smart fish value chains in local communities across the region, with a view to promoting the sustainable and inclusive rehabilitation and modernization of small-scale fisheries as an engine for growth.
In the wild fisheries of the ESA-IO region, small-scale fisheries account for 100 percent of inland and 90 percent of marine fishery resources. These are predominantly poorly regulated, open access and fall under the informal economy. The remaining 10 percent of marine fisheries constitute the industrial segment, which is relatively well managed given the direct connection to the profitability of multinational business corporations. When managed well, these fishery resources can contribute to improving the livelihoods, well-being and cultural diversity of local communities and larger populations.
The Programme has established an Integrated Governance Architecture to engage all key stakeholders at the local, national and regional levels in a macro-to-micro and micro-to-macro approach to problem-solving.
A proactive Regional Coordination Platform has been developed to enhance synergies and partnerships among donors, development agencies and other key stakeholders in marine fisheries and related environmental sectors. The Programme is also launching the Blue Economy Fisheries Satellite Account for a data-driven awareness-raising campaign on the sector’s real economic contribution to national economies.
Although there are numerous fishery policies and strategies in the ESA-IO region, capacities are lacking to implement them effectively. The gap between policy declarations and actions is due to informational asymmetries, weak governance structures, a lack of basic social services in fishing communities, the absence of fishery infrastructure and market logistics.
The region must ensure that commitments are backed by action. It must reverse this trend by promoting an appropriate political economy to decouple economic growth and shared prosperity from the exploitation of fishery resources and the degradation of natural habitats amid climate risks.
This Programme may be replicated both for sustainable inland and high seas fishing where cooperation among neighbouring countries is essential.