Africa has vast fish resources (in marine, inland capture and aquaculture) producing benefits to the continent through revenue, employment and general contribution to socio-economic growth and development. The currents benefits can be increased substantially in a sustainable manner with sound management practices and institutional arrangements for the development of the sector. The marine fish resources, in particular, are diverse with over hundred species of fish and shellfish species of commercial value.
However, the continent continues to be burdened with numerous problems that are hindering long term resources sustainability and reducing prospects for increasing fisheries contribution to food security, poverty alleviation and wealth creation.
Among the key constraints are:
Weak Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) resulting in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing
The principal cause of decline is mainly irresponsible fishing practices in the respective EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zones) underpinned by ineffective fisheries management regimes. The fisheries sector in Africa is characterised by weak monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) which is a recipe for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities that result in loss of revenue and overfishing problems.
Low returns from the exploitation of fish resources
African waters are inhabited by valuable fish resources whose exploitation could bring positive economic benefits. However, most African countries do not have access to lucrative interactive markets for their fish and fisheries products due to non-compliance with importing requirements in these markets, as a result of weak capacity to adhere to internationally-accepted sanitary standards and certification procedures. Secondly, much of the fishing activity in Africa's waters support an offshore economy that provides hardly any value locally in the region, as vessels pay a fee to the governments to access their waters (or simply do so illegally with no fee payment), freeze the fish catch on board, and then land it at a foreign port for processing and export. Poor infrastructure and insufficient facilitation are major constraints to the distribution and trade of fishery and aquaculture products within countries and also internationally.
Weak and uncoordinated institutions governing the sector
Fisheries management in Africa is usually entrusted to the ministries or departments of fisheries at national levels with the mandate to manage and develop the sector for sustainable socio-economic benefits. In most regions of Africa, the member states have established regional fisheries bodies (RFB) to ensure regional collaboration and coherence in policy and management practices of the sector. There is huge overlap of mandates and lack of coordination of activities and programmes between these institutions.
Lack of knowledge and evidence to foster reforms
The paucity of data for decision-making on the required optimum fishing capacity for sustainable fisheries exploitation and profitability is a common occurrence in African fisheries. Generally, scientific knowledge of the inland water fisheries of Africa is relatively poor and most of the reported catches are estimations. The reason can be attributed to poor institutional and human resources capacity for adaptive research for fisheries management at both national and regional levels.
Untapped potential of small scale fisheries
The small-scale fisheries (both coastal and inland) have immense potential to provide both economic and welfare benefits especially to vulnerable and marginalized riparian communities. The full realization of this potential is constrained by inadequate technological, finance and human resource capacities. The sector employs more than 90 percent of Africa's capture fishers, and their importance to food security, poverty reduction and prevention is becoming more appreciated. Marginalization of small-scale fisheries and gender inequity is a major hindrance for the sustainable development of the small-scale fisheries in Africa. The level of organization of small-scale fisheries remains low and governments in the region have provided insufficient support for the empowerment of small-scale fishing communities. The absence of fisheries management plans in the governance of most inland water bodies has continued to bedevil the sector, resulting in overfishing and stock decline. Open access fishery is also a serious concern in the small-scale fisheries and their regulation is of high priority in reforming the fisheries sector.
Undeveloped aquaculture sector in view of the increasing demand for fish products and declining fish stocks in capture fisheries in marine and inland waters on the continent
In comparison with the success stories in Asia, aquaculture development has been constrained by weak institutional and human resources capacity, and inadequate policies resulting in poor practices. The sector lacks institutional or regulatory frameworks for disease control, movement of genetic materials, use of feed additives, etc. Other constraints are weak capacity in genetic engineering for enhanced species growth performance, low technological adaptation, and poor harvests and practices conducted without consideration to ecosystem effects, habitat degradation, pollution and disease control. Aquaculture practices are mainly subsistence-based and without commercial orientation for export purposes.