Myths and realities of Somalian IUU fishing and piracy

Alexander Farrow from the security company MAST had the following to say regarding the myths, realities and misconceptions surrounding Somalian piracy and IUU fishing

In the style of an urban myth, IUU fishing in Somalia’s EEZ has long been attributed by Somalis as the cause of piracy in the Indian Ocean.  While this is not entirely true, there is no denying that Somalian waters are being exploited by fishing fleets from various nations to the extent that it is undermining the prosperity of Somalis and in part underpinning poverty levels. This said, Somalia is one of a handful of countries which has trouble both exploiting and protecting the resources contained within their EEZ. In fact there are few countries around the world which are able to effectively police and regulate their EEZ, in particular managing fisheries in a sustainable manner.
Prior to the heyday of Somalian piracy in 2010/11, there was a project funded by the international community with the purpose of training the Somalian Coast Guard.  However when the project stalled and collapsed due to a lack of funding, it is known that many of the half trained, un-paid Somalian Coast Guard personnel, used their recently learnt maritime skills to conduct piracy. This example shows that piracy was not a result of foreign poaching fishing vessels; rather it was an attractive, lucrative alternative which provided a good living, albeit inherently dangerous.
As Somalia is unable to police its EEZ, fishing is completely unregulated with no quotas enforced.  Undoubtedly this will affect fish stocks in Somalia, but it will also have an effect on the entire Indian Ocean region and surrounding countries. The ‘rich’ fishing grounds off Somalia are a part of a far reaching eco-system, beyond the boundaries of Somalia’s EEZ.  Due to shoal migrations, the IUU fishing in Somalia will lead to a negative effect on many regional countries fishing grounds, including some of those who are the IUU fishing perpetrators. The only way to ensure that this IUU fishing doesn’t lead to a collapse of fish stocks throughout the Indian Ocean is by regional understanding, co-operation and implementation of sustainable frameworks, in order to manage the ‘shared’ Indian Ocean fishery.
At present Somalia does not have the industrial capacity to catch, freeze and transport fish for export.  For now, the only substantial economic worth of fishing to Somalia is the selling of fishing permits to foreign fishing vessels.  However this would only benefit the Somalian government, and not the Somalian fishermen who claim they are being deprived of a livelihood by the foreign fishermen.
The reality is that due to internal conflicts, Somalia is fragmented into several self-declared and self-governing districts; meaning the authority of any issued fishing permit is limited, as rivalling districts are unlikely to recognise its authenticity.  This results in foreign fishing vessel being ‘impounding’ or ‘pirated’, depending on which side of the fence you are on.  Somalia in its current form remains a failed State, and has a string of internal issues which need to be rectified before, or in conjunction with, the re-claiming, utilisation and enforcing of their EEZ and fishing grounds.   Somalia is between a rock and a hard place being unable to capitalise on either the fishing industry itself, or the selling of fishing permits to foreign vessels.
The assumption that IUU fishing directly led to piracy is incorrect, and whilst IUU fishing in Somalia’s proclaimed EEZ should be widely condemned, Somalia’s, and others, excuse that IUU fishing somehow legitimises piracy is unacceptable. The factors around why Somalian piracy started are numerous, however two main likely factors are; opportunistic individuals/persons and (inter)nationally organised crime.
One route to salvation for Somalia is by developing their fishing industry and taking ownership and control of it.  This means a sustainable balance between the selling of fishing permits to foreign vessels and the development of Somalia’s fish export trade.  Somalian authorities, companies and individuals will need to build the necessary infrastructure, such as canning factories and transport links to fully capitalise on this.  However the prospect of this is a long way down the line, and whether given the opportunity the Somali authorities would be able to sustainably manage their fishery remains a questionable prospect.
Featured image: Somali fisherman

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