NAIROBI, 9 March 2006 (IRIN) - Fishermen in Somalia have appealed to the United Nations and the international community to help them rid the country's southern shores of foreign ships allegedly engaged in illegal fishing.
Describing the activity as "economic terrorism", Somali fishermen told IRIN on Thursday that the ships were not only plundering the fish but were also dumping rubbish and oil into the sea. They complained the Somali government was not strong enough to stop it.
"We want the international agencies to help us deal with this problem," said Muhammad Hussein, a local fisherman from the coastal town of Marka, 100 km south of Mogadishu. "If nothing is done about them, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."
An estimated 700 foreign-owned vessels were engaged in unlicensed fishing in Somali waters in 2005, according to the Somali fishery country profile compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). However, the agency said it was "impossible to monitor their fishery production in general, let alone the state of the fishery resources they are exploiting. There is also strong suspicion of illegal dumping of industrial and nuclear wastes along the Somali coast."
Crews of the ships had reportedly harassed and intimidated local fishermen. "They are not only taking and robbing us of our fish, but they are also trying to stop us from fishing," said Jeylani Shaykh Abdi. "They have rammed our boats and cut our nets."
Jeylani noted that the number of foreign ships had increased over time. "It is now normal to see them on a daily basis, a few miles off our shores."
The fishermen usually go out late at night to set their nets, but discover in the morning that their nets have been cut or stolen. "They are no longer satisfied to plunder our fish, but they have now started taking our nets with everything in them," Jeylani said.
He claimed that some of the foreign crews were armed and had occasionally opened fire on Somali fishing boats. There have also been reports that some Somali faction leaders have licensed foreign fishing companies and provided armed militiamen to go onboard the ships.
"[Our] existence depends on the fish," Hussein said. He accused the international community of "talking only about the piracy problem in Somalia, but not about the destruction of our coast and our lives by these foreign ships."
According to FAO, the Somali fishery sector comprises artisanal groups, which operate inshore and account for 60 percent of the landings and the industrial sub-sector. The country has a 3,330 km coastline, with major landing sites in Kismayo, Mogadishu, Eil, Bargal, Bolimog, Las Korey and Berbera. It has large species, including tuna and mackerel; smaller stocks, such as sardines; shark species and lobsters.
Somalia, which has been ravaged by war since 1991 and has no effective central government, lacks the capacity to ensure controlled exploitation of the sector or enforce fishing regulations on its own.
"In the pre-war era, especially in 1989, exports of fishery products earned US $15 million per annum. However, the civil war arrested the steady growth of this trade," the FAO country profile noted. "There is a primary need for assisting the fishery communities to regain their means of livelihood and strengthen their capacity to earn income and to generate employment."