Donatien Wembe: “Illegal fishing discourages local investment”.

11 06 2024 | 09:32Boris Ngounou

Faced with increasing overexploitation and destructive practices, small-scale fishing in Africa, particularly in Cameroon, is facing major challenges that threaten the sustainability of fish stocks. In this interview, oceanologist Donatien Wembe sheds light on the impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and proposes solutions for a transition to more sustainable practices.

Afrik21: What are the main challenges facing small-scale fishing in Africa, and how do these challenges impact on the sustainability of fish stocks?

Donatien Wembe: Artisanal fishing in Africa, and more specifically in Cameroon, faces a number of major challenges that have a significant impact on the sustainability of fisheries resources. The main challenges include overexploitation of resources and unsustainable fishing practices, such as the use of destructive techniques like explosive fishing or the use of small-mesh nets that catch juveniles and non-target species.

These techniques lead to the degradation of marine habitats such as coral reefs and the seabed, the reduction of juvenile fish populations and a reduction in the renewal capacity of stocks. Other challenges include climate change, lack of infrastructure and technology, socio-economic problems, inadequate policies and regulations, and degradation of the coastal environment.

What are the main economic consequences of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing for fishing communities in Africa?

IUU fishing has serious economic consequences for fishing communities in Africa, including loss of income due to reduced catches and lower market prices caused by the influx of illegally caught fish. This practice also leads to overexploitation of fish stocks and a decline in biodiversity, jeopardising the sustainability of local fisheries. Small-scale fishermen face unfair competition, increasing unemployment and poverty, and leading to forced migration. IUU fishing discourages local investment, weakens fishing infrastructures, and exacerbates corruption and poor governance, making it difficult to implement sustainable management policies.

To counter these effects, it is crucial to strengthen fisheries regulations and surveillance, and to promote international cooperation to better coordinate efforts against IUU fishing. Educating and raising awareness among local communities about the negative impacts of IUU fishing and the benefits of sustainable practices is essential. In addition, the development of alternative livelihoods is necessary to reduce dependence on fishing and diversify the sources of income of affected communities.

How is oil pollution affecting marine ecosystems and fishing activities on the Cameroonian coast, particularly in the ports of Douala and Kribi?

Oil pollution on the coast of Cameroon, particularly in the ports of Douala and Kribi, is having devastating effects on marine ecosystems and fishing activities. Hydrocarbons are toxic to many marine organisms, causing death or sub-lethal effects such as developmental abnormalities and disease. They disrupt food chains by affecting plankton, leading to a reduction in fish populations and their predators. Oil also destroys essential habitats such as mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs, threatening local biodiversity and the sustainability of marine ecosystems.

Fishing activities are seriously impacted by the reduction in catches due to fish mortality and the contamination of fishing grounds. The quality of seafood products has deteriorated, making fish unfit for consumption and undermining consumer confidence. Fishermen face increased costs due to the need to move to uncontaminated areas and repair or replace damaged equipment. To mitigate these impacts, it is crucial to strengthen regulations, put in place emergency response plans, restore damaged ecosystems and continuously monitor pollution levels and the state of marine ecosystems.

What are the main political and economic levers that could be activated to support a transition towards more sustainable fishing in Africa?

Stronger policies and governance are crucial, including strict regulations based on scientific assessments, bans on destructive practices, and biological rest periods for fish stocks. Surveillance and enforcement must be strengthened using modern technologies such as satellite surveillance and drones. The involvement of local communities in the management of fisheries resources and the promotion of fishermen’s organisations are also important. Economic support includes subsidies for sustainable equipment, financial incentives, and improved access to finance, facilitating the adoption of sustainable fishing practices.

Capacity building and education of fishermen on sustainable techniques, as well as investment in research to understand marine ecosystems, are essential. Improving infrastructure, particularly cold chains and transport infrastructure, helps to reduce post-capture losses and improve product quality. The creation of marine protected areas and the restoration of coastal habitats are necessary for the conservation of ecosystems. Promoting fair and sustainable trade through ecological certification and access to international markets can also support this transition. An integrated, multi-level approach, involving cooperation between governments, local communities, NGOs and international players, is crucial to ensuring the sustainability of fisheries resources for future generations.