Multinational EBM initiative takes shape with objective to remain “Africa-owned”

A coastal and marine ecosystem-based management (EBM) initiative in the southwest Indian Ocean remains distinctly “Africa-owned” as the project confronts inadequate scientific knowledge and what some experts describe as lack of effective regional management.

Funding for the South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Project (SWIOFP – is expected to be disbursed in September 2007 following complex negotiations that began in 2004. Members of the five-year initiative include Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Seychelles, Tanzania, and France (Réunion). Somalia has participated as an observer.

The cost of the project is US$22.64 million – including $12 million funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and approved by the World Bank; $3.97 million from France, Norway and other donors; and $6.67 million from participant nations. GEF describes SWIOFP’s goals as developing institutions necessary for sustainable fisheries; conserving nearshore fisheries for artisanal purposes; achieving sustained biodiversity; and mobilizing coastal communities.

Variety of challenges

According to Rudy van der Elst, director of the South Africa-based Oceanographic Research Institute, much remains unknown about the area’s coastal and marine resources. “The West Indian Ocean (WIO) represents a significant and often critical source of security for many developing countries in the region in terms of food security, employment, foreign exchange, etc.,” says van der Elst, whose institute is a SWIOFP consultant. “It is of concern that the countries and small island developing states have no idea of the nature and extent of resources in their Exclusive Economic Zones beyond their inshore shallow-water resources.”

The region faces increasing pressures. Coral reefs are impacted by resource extraction, recreation, litter and high-temperature bleaching. Tropical cyclones damage coastal infrastructure. Traditional fishers overexploit inshore and reef species with nonselective methods. In deep waters, distant-nation fleets harvest declining numbers of tuna.

“There is no regional plan to manage the extractive use of what essentially is a shared resource,” van der Elst says. “Sharing of data in the region has been exceptionally poor. That will change, and the pooling of expertise and information will ensure a more regional approach to management of shared and straddling resources. SWIOFP perhaps is a last chance to collectively secure sustainable use of WIO living resources.”

Johnson U. Kitheka, a Kenyan environmental scientist, says past management efforts have been lacking. “There has been a lack of focus on core issues related to fisheries management such that most of the focus has been research-oriented. This has led to a situation where there has been very little effort to link fisheries research with fisheries management. Also, lack of an effective regional framework for coordination of matters related to fisheries – including weak policy, regulatory and institutional setups – has to a certain extent constrained efforts toward sustainable fisheries management in the WIO region.”

Kitheka is project officer for the UN Environment Programme/GEF West Indian Ocean Addressing Land-Based Activities and Sources of Pollution (WIO-LaB) Initiative, whose broad goal is to contribute to the environmentally sustainable management and development of the WIO region ( He says SWIOFP will mark a departure from the past if it can help participating countries “build the required capacity for sustainable fisheries management, and mobilize resources required to address the chronic problem of lack of adequate budgetary provisions to support sustainable fisheries development and management in the region.”

Alejandro Anganuzzi, executive secretary of the Seychelles-based Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), encourages SWIOFP to collaborate with existing management regimes. “The main challenge is to develop an effective mechanism to deal with the priorities for the nations participating in the initiative. Most of these countries require effective mechanisms to collect data, to establish credible port controls to prevent unloading of illegal catches in their ‘ports of convenience’. They also require institutional development including efficient interagency communication at the national level and training on technical and legal matters concerning fisheries management.

“I do not think SWIOFP can address the issue of fisheries management directly, as it does not have the mandate for management,” Anganuzzi says. “However, it can provide valuable support to the process of expanding on scientific knowledge for tuna stocks and application of EBM in the context of IOTC fisheries. It also can provide support to develop human resources in the region, training people in a range of scientific and compliance issues. I hope the IOTC scientific community will be offered the possibility to assist in their process.”

Local collaboration

Meanwhile, there is wide consensus that SWIOFP should represent a localized effort. “It was decided that SWIOFP would be ‘Africa-owned’ in the sense that it would engage local expertise and capacity rather than importing external consultants,” van der Elst says. “SWIOFP has been developed by African partners for African benefit. It is strongly focused on self-help – and much of the funding is attributable to African support.”

Forging such teamwork has presented challenges. “We knew that SWIOFP’s success would require a lengthy development process to ensure buy-in of the many countries,” van der Elst says. “It has taken almost four years of planning including detailed approaches, cruise plans, etc. It required memos of understanding for operating in the different countries and sharing of data, etc. The development phase has been a major part of the SWIOFP project and ensures a greater chance of success.”

Such collaboration has remained a key priority, says Ben Satia, retired chief of international institutions and liaison for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. “It is not that people do not want to collaborate. It is that the national interests are so high – the stakes are so high. This calls for building trust. And trust comes because you have been meeting with that person and you have been talking and you can understand what the person means.

“If the countries of SWIOFP are not prepared to bury their small differences, it will be difficult for them to make any headway,” says Satia, a key player during early negotiations and now affiliate professor with the University of Washington’s School of Marine Affairs. “They must have a specific objective they want to obtain, forgo their differences and work collaboratively toward that objective.”

Threat of IUU fishing

Collaboration takes on new importance as SWIOFP nations strive to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The European Commission has declared that IUU fishing threatens the sustainability of fisheries in the Southwest Indian Ocean, where profitable fisheries operate in a vast geographic area and where surrounding nations lack efficient monitoring.

According to Satia, battling IUU fishing requires strong political will. “Most of the illegal fishing is done by flags-of-convenience vessels. If the states permitting these vessels to bear their flags carried out their responsibilities – and these responsibilities are well-laid out – IUU fishing would be reduced.

“Also, the coastal states should aggressively inspect these vessels as they come on shore to ensure they are in compliance,” Satia says. “The countries need to have appropriate monitoring, control and surveillance mechanisms in place, and they should claim ownership at national and sub-regional levels of appropriate instruments enacted at international levels on IUU fishing.”

Van der Elst points to the need for accurate data on IUU and other flag landings. “SWIOFP should contribute to significant reductions in IUU activities – but it will take all partners to collaborate equally. At present, two-thirds of the WIO industrial catch is foreign-driven. That may be okay in the future as long as the host countries are able to make such concessions on a well-informed basis to their benefit.”

Poverty compounds such challenges in the world’s only region where developing nations entirely surround an ocean. “Artisanal fisheries represent a complicated issue – but it is vital to the people concerned because it is their livelihood,” Satia says. “While it is important to encourage artisanal fishing, it also is essential that this fishing be done in a responsible manner. There is a need to reduce fishing effort – which, in some cases, may mean some fishers will not be fishing tomorrow. They need to diversify their way of life.

“How do you select the people who do not fish and those who remain in the fishing sector?” Satia says. “It becomes a very difficult situation. It involves more than just the fish – it involves empowering the people. As long as we can improve the capacity of these people to understand that they should not overexploit the resources, that would be a major achievement. It comes with education – and how to educate them is part of the process.”

Measuring SWIOFP success

According to Satia, SWIOFP’s success will hinge on local stakeholders’ participation. “My first concern is whether the people are involved in the decision-making process. The second would be the rate at which the resource is replenished. The third milestone would be positive changes in the communities’ livelihoods – and, last, if countries have in place fisheries management plans.”

Kitheka says he will gauge SWIOFP’s success based on whether participating countries eventually will be able to come up with “better policies, regulatory and institutional frameworks necessary for the sustainable management of offshore fisheries. Other indicators that could be used to gauge the success of the project should include its indirect contribution toward improvement of the livelihoods of local populations – hence, poverty reduction – and better understanding of the dynamics of offshore fisheries in the SWIO region.”

Van der Elst hopes to see at least one successful example of fisheries management that benefits all participant nations. “Ultimately, I’d like to see the WIO well-managed with shared responsibilities and shared benefits for riparian countries.”

For more information:
Rudy van der Elst:
Alejandro Anganuzzi:
Ben Satia:
Johnson Kitheka: