A new fishing deal signed between the Somalia government and vessels tied to the China Overseas Fisheries Association raises serious questions. Some Somalis, particularly those in the fishing community, worry that their livelihoods will be gutted, while others fear a return of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. “It’s shocking to see the ministry of fisheries signing such a one-sided contract with a Chinese company,” said Abdirizak Mohamed, a Somali MP representing the coastal Hirshabelle region, 40 kilometres north of Mogadishu, the capital. “It actually gives China the advantage,” he told RFI.
According to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Somalia Fisheries Ministry website, this deal allows 31 Chinese long line vessels to fish for “tuna and tuna-like species” for one year, a deal automatically renewed each year. The boats will be able to fish 24 nautical miles from shore within Somali territorial waters. While the agreement requires the use of trackers so that vessels stay within the nautical boundaries of the deal, there is serious concern that the Somali fishing community will lose out because the ministry will not be able to monitor the catch.
Some people are also concerned that the use of trackers will not go far enough to ensure the boundaries outlined in the deal are respected. “I don’t see any credible Somali control mechanism emerging in the foreseeable future. This has to be based on the trust between the Chinese government and the Somali government – it’s a long shot,” said Stig Jarle Hansen, professor of international relations at the University of Life Sciences in Oslo. “Indeed, a lot of the countries in East Africa that haven’t experienced a civil war don’t fully control their offshore territories, either,” said Hansen, who added that a strong navy needs to be in place in order seriously to stop overfishing.
As a former Somali minister for natural resources, MP Mohamed said he had spoken to people close to the negotiations who felt that Somalia would be losing out. According to the deal, China would be paying just over one million US dollars [912,000 euros] for 31 fishing licenses. He also pointed out that the actual terms of the contract have never been revealed.
“There’s an issue of transparency and accountability,” he said. “The parliamentary committee on resources must look into this,” he added. Those whose livelihoods depend on a regular catch believe they will be hurt by the China boat deal. “Competition between foreign and domestic fishing for declining resources can lead to the increased occurrence and intensity of conflict between the fleets,” according to the Somali Coastal Development Opportunities report, published by Secure Fisheries, a US-based program that works with post-conflict regions to strengthen governance and combat illegal fishing.