Somalia: Evicting foreign vessels only half a solution to guarding our fish
EDITORIAL | Somalia's fisheries sector may be on its way to better protection, as the government takes steps to rid the waters of illegal exploiters. This week, the federal government issued a directive for foreign vessels to leave Somali waters by the end of March, as a step towards controlling the harvesting of one of the country's valuable resources.
The directive is a positive move, but also comes with challenges. The Puntland state government has already opposed the decision, claiming it was made without consultation. There are also concerns about potential violations of previous contracts between Puntland and foreign entities.
Protecting Somalia's fish also requires constant monitoring of local officials who seek to take advantage by entering underhanded deals with foreign vessels. For example, there are fears that politicians in Puntland, under the leadership of state President Said Abdulahi Deni, are abusing their powers by profiting from faulty fishing agreements, which may explain the increasing number of vessels in Somali waters. Previous investigations by organizations such as the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crimes have revealed a consistent pattern where both federal and state officials enter contracts without consequences, due to the personal gains they receive.
Such contracts have no benefits for locals and must be stopped and their perpetrators punished. Illegal fishing in Somalia is a long-standing problem, leading to humorous inaccuracies about Somalia's lack of interest in fish as food. Since the civil war broke out in 1991 and institutions collapsed, Somalia has suffered significant economic losses as there were not enough resources to watch over its coastline.
Recently, however, there have been efforts to rebuild the watchtower as the Somali government works with partners to reestablish agencies and a legal regime to manage fish. What has not been addressed is how to support local fishers who cannot compete with foreign vessels.
There is a constitutional crisis when it comes to natural resource management in Somalia, as both sides agree. While the Federal Government may have the authority to manage the country's waters, some member states claim they should have a say in the management of fishing resources in their territories. This lack of clarity has resulted in licenses issued by one entity being cancelled or defied by another.
The issue remains unresolved, which could be a potential flashpoint in the country. The management of fisheries resources should be a shared role, divided between the federal government and the Federal Member States (FMS). The federal government is responsible for managing the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) beyond 12 nautical miles from the coastline, while the FMS are responsible for managing the inshore fisheries within 12 nautical miles from the coastline.
This provision has often been neglected or abused, but it is encouraging to see recent efforts such as the drafting of laws to guide management. The federal government has also expanded the relevant ministry, now called the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, responsible for developing and implementing policies, laws, and regulations related to fisheries management in the EEZ. The ministry should also work with international organizations to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in Somali waters.
The FMS must also work towards reform and cooperate with agencies to ensure shared success. However, the constitutional gap in Somalia must be a matter of priority. Chasing foreign vessels from our seas will be pointless if some parts of Somalia have entered into legal deals with them. Somalia's left hand must know what the right hand is doing in order to rise from state failure.