Africa Defense Forum
ADF is a professional military magazine published quarterly by U.S. Africa Command to provide an international forum for African security professionals. ADF covers topics such as counter terrorism strategies, security and defense operations, transnational crime, and all other issues affecting peace, stability, and good governance on the African continent.

Somalia Aims to Curb ‘National Disaster’ Caused by Illegal Fishing


Somali authorities have vowed to crack down on foreign vessels fishing illegally in the country’s waters and protect the livelihoods of 70,000 people who work in its fisheries sector.

The government’s announcement was made in late October, weeks after Somalia’s territorial areas in the Indian Ocean were increased by the International Court of Justice. The ruling reduced areas of the ocean that previously belonged to Kenya.

After years of declining pirate attacks in Somalia, fishing fleets, mostly from Iran and Yemen but increasingly from China, have made illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing a major challenge that costs the country millions of dollars a year.

“Illegal fishing in Somalia is a national disaster and one of the biggest catastrophes to Somalia’s resources,” Somali Attorney General Suleiman Mohamed Mohamud said a report by Somali news website Garowe Online.

Although Somalia has promised greater surveillance of its 3,333-kilometer coastline, experts say the country faces capacity challenges.

“Most states are lacking on that front, and certainly Somalia, with regionalized pockets of capacity that are very inconsistent from one region to the next, does not have the capacity to control the entire exclusive economic zone of the massive coastline,” Ian Ralby, a maritime security expert who has written extensively on fishing issues, told ADF. “That is not a hindrance to passing a new law or policy, but obviously, it is a major hindrance to being able to actually enforce it.”

Somalia also must overcome corruption among its fisheries officials for any new laws to gain traction, a July 2021 study by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime suggests.

Ralby, chief executive officer of I.R. Consilium, agreed. He said corruption threatens the integrity of fisheries sectors globally and often leads to foreign fishing companies flying “flags of convenience” to dodge authorities and fines related to illegal fishing.

“You will have foreign fishing vessels that pay to register in Somalia,” Ralby said. “They may be Somali-flagged and there may even be a nominal company that is based in Somalia that owns and operates the vessel, but the beneficial owner will be elsewhere. Often, this is done in concert with senior officials of different kinds.”

The recent influx of Chinese fishing vessels in Somalia has resulted in abuse claims by Indonesian crew members hired to work on Chinese trawlers.

In August, four Indonesian workers jumped from a Chinese fishing vessel into Somali waters after they said they were beaten and starved. Three of them floated in the ocean for hours until they were picked up by the same boat. The fourth crew member drowned. Ghanaian and Kenyan sailors recently have made similar claims aboard Chinese fishing vessels.

The Indonesian crew members told the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) that Chinese vessels routinely fish in Somalia without authorization and use illegal gear such as trawl nets.

Crew members also claimed that Chinese trawlers caught protected or endangered species such as whale sharks, dolphins and turtles, and that they were forced to remove the fins of sharks before tossing the rest of the bodies overboard, a practice the EJF characterized as “barbaric and wasteful.”

China commands the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet and is the world’s worst IUU fishing offender, according to the IUU Fishing Index.

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