The Future of Fishing: The Greatest Challenges Facing Somali Fishers

Lido Beach Mogadishu Somalia
Fishers bringing in catch at Lido Beach, Mogadishu. Photo: Jamal Hassan.

What does fishing have to do with building a foundation for sustainable peace? Everything! According to the 2015 report, Securing Somali Fisheries, “In Africa, fisheries are an important part of local and regional economies, adding over US $24 billion to the continental economy. Yet, small scale fishers remain some of the most impoverished people in the world and are highly vulnerable to economic shocks and the resulting livelihood insecurity.”

Strong fisheries governance coupled with sustainable and inclusive resource management is one approach to addressing the root causes of fisheries conflict. When fisheries are managed effectively and fairly, there is less competition over resources, less food waste, more economic opportunity, and therefore, fewer drivers of conflict. Secure Fisheries is working to combat the challenges surrounding the fishing industry, from overfishing and illegal fishing to food waste and lack of cold chain infrastructures. After sitting down with three Somali fishers, we got an inside look at the challenges impacting Somali fishers. 

Not-So-Friendly Competition 

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Somali region has been a constant issue felt by many in local communities. IUU fishing poses serious threats to fish stocks in the Bander Beyla area and, when foreign vessels loot the resources every day,  puts small-scale fisheries in economic peril. 

“I see that there is a lot of illegal and foreign fishing happening in Somalia. We can not compete with those who are going about it illegally, especially when they use advanced tools and techniques. I find we are also suffering post-harvest losses because of the lack of requisite storage opportunities and cold chain facilities,” shares Abdulqadir Geelle, a Bander Beyla fisher. 

When Hassan Ali Yusuf, both a fisher and data enumerator in Mogadishu, used to venture further out to sea, there were times when his crew came upon illegal foreign vessels and had to turn back to avoid a confrontation with them. 

“I know of other fishing crews that have been shot at by these foreign vessels to get them to leave the fishing grounds. Others have had their fishing gear cut and some have had hot water sprayed onto them. I don’t really see them anymore because I no longer venture out that far, but they are probably still there,” shares Yusuf. 

In contrast, Hassan Mohamed Roble, a leader in the fishing industry in Mogadishu, believes that the problem with foreign vessels stealing fish is not as bad as it has been in the past, but he believes vessels from countries such as Iran and Yemen close to shore and make deals with local fishers to catch fish for them to take back to their home countries. While trade with foreign vessels provides a market for Somali catch, the foreign boats tend to want only specific types of fish. This leaves local fishers with the problem of what to do with the rest of the fish that they catch whilst working for these vessels, which can lead to food waste and spoilage. 

Keeping It Fresh

“And of course, there is always the ongoing problem of lack of facilities. The fish market needs to be enhanced and supplied with cold storage to keep the fish fresh,” shares Yusuf of the market in Mogadishu. 

With every minute a fish is at room temperature, revenue slips away. Fish must be kept cold to maintain quality, so ice machines, freezers, and refrigerated trucks are critical pieces of the value chain that are lacking in the Somali region, hindering seafood market expansion.  

“Because we don’t have proper facilities, fish are being laid out on dirty beaches, and the condition of the market is not much better. Generally speaking, there’s just poor hygiene throughout the supply chain, and people aren’t using the correct fish processing procedures. There are a lot of things that need to be fixed,” shares Roble. 

Compounding these issues are misinformation and misunderstanding. According to Roble, local consumers tend to want to buy fish that are not cold because there is an incorrect assumption that a warm fish has come straight off a fishing vessel and is therefore fresh. The misconception is that if the fish is cold it must have been kept in a freezer for a long time and is not desirable. 

The net effect of these issues is an ill-conceived incentive for fishers to continue wasteful and unhealthy practices that hamper economic progress and increase profits from expanded markets that require cold fish. In actuality, keeping catch  cold is the key to preventing food waste. 

To that end, Secure Fisheries recently partnered with the Somalia Seafood Exporters Association, the Global Cold Chain Alliance, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, and the Ministries of Fisheries in Somalia and the state of Puntland to develop an initiative focused on combining technical training, best practices, and infrastructure such as solar-powered cold storage. These efforts will educate fishers and the public about the importance of the cold chain and healthy practices. The goal is for fishers and seafood companies to reduce spoilage and increase profits through efficient, low-cost technology and skills. When combined, the infrastructure and knowledge will result in domestic market growth  while improving processing quality to meet  export market regulations in more countries. 

COVID-19 Impacts on the Fishing industry

It’s no surprise that like many other industries in 2020, COVID-19 has impacted the fishing sector immensely and added to the challenges that the industry was already grappling with. 

“When COVID-19 came and the fish market disappeared, it was as if our lives also stopped. The only source of livelihood I had known for years ceased. For women heads of households like myself, who must find daily livelihood for my five children, things turned for the worse,” shares Khadra, a Bander Beyla local who owns a fishing boat.

Her team depended entirely on selling fish to exporters who sent their products to Yemen and Dubai. With COVID travel restrictions, those markets disappeared. With the difficulty of road travel to domestic locations like Garowe, the capital of her state of Puntland, Khadra had no alternative domestic option.

When COVID hit, another Bander Beyla local, Geelle, was also severely impacted. His business nearly halted due to international markets being cut off by the lockdowns imposed in many importing countries. 

“The price of fish and lobster dramatically decreased as well. Needless to say, the prolonged market downturn is likely to introduce long-term transformations in the fishing sector. As the new fishing season started, the demand for lobster remains low and traders are offering very low prices, thus resulting in a price dispute and a delay in start time of the fishing season,” shares Geelle. The shorter fishing season means less yearly revenue for the fishers who depend on it to support their families.”

Fishers throughout the region are sharing similar stories. In Mogadishu, Yusuf says export companies are not buying as much fish as they were before because the foreign market is closed and the domestic market is limited. 

“This has meant that we don’t have as many buyers as before, waiting to take the fish off our hands when we bring it ashore. But things are slowly beginning to return to normal, thankfully,” shares Yusuf. 

Like Yusuf, Haassan Mohamed Roble has seen a significant impact on seafood exporters. Those who were exporting to countries like Kenya and the UAE have been hit the hardest in his opinion.

“For my part, after the Covid-19 restrictions were enforced, I found myself encumbered with two tons of seafood sitting in cold storage with nowhere to take it because of the export restrictions. I then had to tell the fishers that supply me with produce that I couldn’t take any more fish off their hands because I had nowhere to take it myself. This had an impact on them in turn, so it affected everyone,” said Roble. 

Eventually, a group of traders got together and transported a container of seafood to Dubai hoping to find a buyer there, but Roble and his team still faced the issue of storage while waiting for a buyer. That meant pricey storage fees, but paying those fees and netting a small profit was better than letting good seafood spoil. There are few other options for the team until they find a buyer to export the goods. 

The Big Picture

In the end, there are still various challenges and obstacles facing the fishing industry in the Somali region, and the impacts of the pandemic only serve to heighten the issues. But, Secure Fisheries and the fishing communities working with them are making progress toward sustainable fisheries, a stable coastal economy, and peace for the region. 

“There is more data to be collected, cold chain infrastructure to build, and more fishers to train in the new year. There is an endless sea of opportunity to create pathways to peace, and Secure Fisheries is confident that they will continue to enact positive change. Together with the local communities, we are helping Somali fishers and fisheries advance their goals and progress toward becoming an integral, stable, and fruitful part of the local economy, creating a generational impact for fishers to come,” shares Jamal Hassan, project manager for Secure Fisheries.

If you would like to be involved in the work One Earth Future’s Secure Fisheries program does, please visit the Secure Fisheries website. To learn more about the causes and consequences of conflict in Somali waters, check out the Rough Seas report. 

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