Somalia Fisheries: My personal Reflections on key Challenges and opportunities

By: Ahmed Said Nur


Somalia has the long coastline of more than 3,300 kms and claims an EEZ of some 830,389Km Square.  The coastline is known to have abundant fisheries resources and is the most diverse and high profitable fishing grounds in east Africa.  the only fish stocks in the world that are in fact “under-fished” are found in the waters off Somalia.  Large schools of primarily tuna migrate from north to south and back along the east coast of Africa and concentrate off Somalia where the upwelling of oxygenated deep water brings nutrients to the surface as a food source for fish. (FAO,2006).  

 Somalia had a strong central government before the 1990s, this centralized, military-led Government had a policy towards the fisheries development sector focusing on mobilizing Somali people, mainly pastoralists affected by drought to benefit from such a long coastline in terms of food security and jobs. Pursuing this policy, the Somali Government established fisheries cooperatives across the main fishing hubs along the coast.  The approach was to distribute boats and nets to fishermen and fish cooperatives free of charge to enable them to go and fish at sea to get income and livelihoods. The Government had also directed the Somali development bank to provide investment to these fishing cooperatives. Just a few years before the collapse of the Government in 1990, the Ministry of fisheries and marine resources of Somalia had distributed several hundred Volvo types of boats to young secondary school leavers who did not get an opportunity to get University. The objective was to create jobs for them as they miss opportunities for higher education because the Somali National University was not able to accommodate and provide education opportunities for many secondary school leavers.

The Ministry of fisheries and marine resources was responsible for managing the marine resources, introducing seasonal closures, restricting open access at sea, collecting data and information related to fish resources through conducting surveys and assessment to monitor the status of fish stocks.  This was mostly done with the collaboration of international partners. The former Government of Somalia had a Navy and a Coast guard responsible for controlling and protecting Somali waters and its marine resources from foreign poachers, the involvement of foreign vessels stealing Somalia resources was absent. The big mistake that the former Government made was ignoring the private sector role in fishing industries.

Soon after the government collapsed, the fishing cooperatives disappeared, the whole fisheries institution and system collapsed, informal fishing companies established their business activities in an unregulated environment to heavily fish and catch valuable fish products like lobster in an unsustainable manner. They have been exporting to the United Arab Emirates where middlemen are still main buyers of Somalia fish product.  This unregulated environment attracted many Somali people to enter the fishing industry to get income. Private sector involvement in the fishing industry raised significantly but with a lot of challenges. Fishing cooperatives established by the former government disappeared and become dysfunctional.

Another important phenomenon that happened after the 1990s is illegal fishing. Poachers come with large demersal trawling fishing vessels and with the support of Somali brokers are still stealing valuable fish resources and destroying fish habitats and threatened the livelihoods of the coastal communities by abolishing their fishing grounds. Foreign vessels from around the world flooded in to steal Somali resources and a significant number of them received support from Somali dealers who facilitated them to reach their objectives. 

Existing Challenges

  •  Weak National and regional government institutions to design and implement monitoring and surveillance control mechanism, sound fisheries management. Seafood quality standards and systems to ensure safety of fish product to access regional and international markets which is major obstacle to export fish, absence of strategy and plans to establish strong and dynamic private sector working hand in hand with the Government.  
  • Somalia still in a fragile context, Political order, security and justice systems are very week, disputes and contest among Somali political elites both national and regional level over power and resource sharing struggle are signaling the bad image to investors. The sector still lacks a lot of coherent policies and regulations to ensure proper fisheries management plans that paves the way fishing companies export fish product and create conducive environments attract investors to introduce new technologies to create jobs and increase fish production
  • Illegal fishing is the main problem, the Government lacks use of fisheries technology to tackle and deal with illegal fishing.  equipment such as VMS, AIS, GPS and GNSS are very much useful to locate and identify the vessels fishing in territorial waters and EEZ. Use of mobiles to collect data is very simple technology that can be used to collect and gather fisheries data.  Use of these equipment and technologies is very much limited in Somalia because of the cost involved and shortage for individuals trained to use them. use of VMS and AIS requires collaboration from Captains of vessels, if the illegal fishing vessels switch off their VMS, it will be difficult to locate or find them.
  • Lack of Fisheries infrastructure such as jetties and cold chain equipment, shortage of skills and knowledge including cold chain technicians, marine biologists, difficult to change of mindset, attitudes and behavior of fishery folks and policy makers to adapt new ways of doing businesses, Leverage of investment and finance to create employment opportunities.
  • The fishing sector lacks trained personnel in every aspects including fisheries management, quality assurance, cold chain technicians and cold chain management, well trained Somali marine biologists are few or almost nonexistent, fishery companies face a shortage of business skills including developing business plans, marketing and manage their accounts properly. Somalia has a long coastline and the fishery sector is one of the productive sectors of the country, but it is unfortunate that there is no one single highly specialized and dedicated university that purely teaches marine science subjects nor professional schools and colleges exist that produce skilled labor and technicians for the development of this important sector. Shortage/lack of skilled personnel is a great challenge that this sector is currently facing and needs to be addressed in the short- and long-term future.

Donor’s approach to support fishery sector

Since the collapse of the Somali government in the 1990s, some agencies and donors have been supporting the fishery  sector of Somalia particularly capacity development of fishing cooperatives and fishing communities in coastal areas of Somalia, they focused their efforts on humanitarian sort of community support and small pieces of emergency projects focusing on provision of equipment such as nets and small boats etc. many organizations with leadership of FAO have distributed boats to fishing communities living in Tsunami affected areas of Somalia. FAO support to fishery sector focused on emergency assistance and pieces of emergency projects promoting livelihoods of fishermen and communities through provision of fishing gears, boats, trainings and projects aimed at building capacities of the Ministries of fisheries through provision of training to upgrade skills of personnel, organizing study tours, support to policy development such as fisheries policies and regulations etc.

USAID and DFID on the other hand have first time designed private sector development projects focusing all productive sectors of Somalia, fisheries were main components of each, USAID after Somali’s economic growth strategic assessment report published in July 2014 which highlighted high potential income and employment of fishery sector of Somalia if the private sector role is promoted had designed Growth, enterprise, employment and Livelihood (GEEL) Project. DFID on the other hand, had designed a private sector through promoting inclusive markets (PIMS.  both projects addressed the challenges that fishery firms are   facing including; fish handling processing and quality standards issues, exploring and accessing new markets, linkages to international firms for creating partnership opportunities, Somali private companies move into both fishing and processing stages of the industry, leveraging private capital investment to expand fisheries businesses.

 The two initiatives aimed at support fisheries firms to increase jobs, fish exports, income, and profit, leading to economic growth, Objectives within the private sector include; better management of fish resources, creating jobs, increasing sustainable fish production, investing, improving quality safety and standards, accessing the international market through exposure visits and study tours. The GEEL/USAID and PIMS -DFID  projects  Have  encouraged private businesses to do business differently with new innovations and technologies bearing in mind the importance of the private sector to contribute to economic growth and development of Somalia expecting  new fishing industry to  emerge  with a new mindset,  ideas, and initiatives from the Somali private investors,  engagement of local banks to invest in the fishery industry become very challenging due to enabling environment mainly enforcing rules and regulations , contract enforcement  etc. 

Way forward

  •  It is ultimately the responsibility of government to deal with illegal fishing issue. There are several ways that the government can tackle it including; the establishment of fisheries monitoring system along the coastal lines/ fisheries hubs of both Indian ocean and Gulf of Aden equipped with modern technology and deploy trained personnel.  the government need to purchase fisheries monitoring technology including effective radars to monitor the movement of vessels, vessel monitoring systems (VMS), Automatic identification systems (AIS) and alike, well trained personnel who effectively use, maintain and operationalize this equipment are very much essential to achieve results. The second way that the government fight against Illegal fishing is to be part of regional port state control to prevent vessels doing illegal fishing and stealing Somali fish resources to offload the fish cargo into these ports, to deal with IUU fishing, it requires regional and international cooperation.
  •  both public and private institutions are growing in fragile context, investment climate is improving but not yet attractive to many foreign and domestic investors, there are too many risks but some of these risks could be minimized through joint venture and use of local knowledge and expertise. Local firms with partnership of international ones must show commitment, honest and trust to deal with uncertainties and build the trust with their foreign partners. local firms through partnership with international firms can get knowledge. Skills, investments, and transfer of new technology. 
  •  Building capacity of the Government institutions that lead the sector is a key. Without effective and quality Government institutions that govern the sector fisheries sector will not develop. These Government institutions must create space for the private sector to take part in the development of the industry and work with the private sector in every aspects of the fishery value chain.
  •  There is an urgent requirement for Somali government to design and implement a proper fisheries management policies and mechanism containing the establishment of a proper data collection and monitoring systems including surveys and assessment of fish stocks, management measures including seasonal closures, restriction of harmful fishing gears, banning bad fishing practices and fish handling.  establishing marine protected areas where necessary to ensure sustainable use of fishery resource, and collaborating with FAO to implement code of conduct for responsible fisheries. The focus should not be only to exploit fish, fish trade, processing, and export to maximize profit and income and spur economic growth but also to ensure the sustainable use of marine resources through protection and conservation of marine biodiversity, marine environment and sustainable use of living marine resources for both current and future Somali generations.
  • Somalia needs to be part of regional and global conventions, organizations and bodies for sustainable development and actively participate as a member of those bodies such as Indian ocean tuna commission to take part in proper management of transboundary fish stocks such as Tuna, management of endangered species like sea turtles, protect marine habitats and ecosystems like mangroves, coral reefs, plan, establish and manage marine protected areas where necessary.
  • Somalia must develop plans to become a HACCP country, HACCP means, Hazard analysis, control, and critical points. It is a mechanism to ensure fish quality and safety, fish product that is   fit for human consumption and get it access the international market.  It starts right from catching fish at sea till fish is consumed and eaten. In other words, it is a step by step process to safeguard and protect fish from contamination from bacteria emanating from human, equipment and the environment while handling and processing the fish at sea, during transportation, landing sites, transporting to fish processing sites and during fish cleaning, freezing and storing at the fish processing facility. Fish can be easily spoiled and contaminated by biological, chemical, and physical hazards if not properly handled and processed using ice and temperature required to make it fresh and frozen free of hazards and bacteria. So, designing a program to collaborate with international quality control standards to implement HACCP principles and procedures to ensure fish quality and safety of the product is an urgent requirement for the Government of Somalia to design and implement.
  • Encourage, engage, and promote private sector role in the fishery industry, leverage private capital and, investment to expand their business activities to increase income and create job opportunities for Somali people. Development a vibrant private sector  with strong export-oriented based on fisheries value chain management,  competitiveness and, quality of fish product standards is essential to increase productivity,  income and create jobs to spur growth of the Somali economy, The government should create conducive and supportive environment that provides a playground for private sector involved in the fishing industry to grow and prosper to contribute to growth of economy to raise living standards of Somali people particularly those living in rural coastal areas.  Fisheries should be viewed as business not as substance and livelihood aspects.
  • The government should also leverage public funds to secure investment and finance to develop and build fishing infrastructure including; fishing ports, jetties, fish landing sites, ice-making machines to produce enough ice for fish handling, feeder roads in the rural and remote coastal area. Develop and build human capacities of public and private institutions particularly the development of human resources and skills for manpower required in the fishing industry including, marine biologists, researchers, professionals, and technicians of different aspects and disciplines required for the development of the fishery industry of Somalia, skills and knowledge development are paramount to the development of fishing industry. The level of skills and knowledge of personnel involving fishery commercial businesses is very low and needs to be upgraded.


By: Ahmed Said Nur