Africa's fishing industry faces crisis: Africa's fishing communities must change the way they operate if they are to meet demand and reduce poverty and hunger. Tom Nevin reports.

Author:Nevin, Tom
 
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The world's fishing industry is edging towards crisis, and most at risk are Africa's millions of fishermen and women, among the continent's poorest communities. This is the view of a joint Nigeria-World Bank study and the trigger for a global intervention--known as Profish--to meet the looming disaster.

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Launched at the recent New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) Fish for All summit in Abuja, Nigeria, Profish aims to promote effective fisheries strategies and policies at the country, regional and global levels by establishing a new worldwide programme for sustainable fishing. The most practical solution, the summit was told, is fish farming (see panel).

According to a new report, Turning the Tide, issued by the World Bank at the conference, over-fishing means far more than ecological loss. It also leads to fewer jobs, rises in the price of fish, reduces an important source of revenue for developing countries, and is a real threat to the health of poor families in coastal and inland communities.

The report highlights the direct link between over-fishing and poverty--"a link that has dramatic implications for developing countries," says the director of the Bank's Environment Department, Warren Evans. "There are many millions of poor people worldwide who rely on fisheries for income, and even more critically, as their primary source of protein." The importance of fish in developing countries is shown by the numbers. The fish production sector employs some 150m people in developing countries and growth in jobs in the fisheries sector has been mainly in small-scale fisheries in the developing world.

"This is much more than an ecological loss," Evans maintains. "It is a development issue. It's about economic development and about pro-poor growth."

Sustained fishing could disappear

Studies released over the last year show that the marine fisheries are already heavily over-exploited. Coral reefs are damaged globally and unless something is done about the ecological dilemma, sustained fisheries for either the poor or rich countries will disappear.

The crisis stems from the simple fact that fish is being taken out of the sea much faster than existing stocks can replenish themselves. "For example," Evans says, "seven of the top commercial species are being over-exploited and that means that we're losing access to these fisheries. These stocks cannot recover from the human pressure."

Fish is the most heavily traded food commodity and the fastest growing agricultural commodity on international markets. A worrying upshot of over-fishing is that even though yields are about the same every year, increasingly smaller fish species are being captured, disrupting the food chain. So while the...

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