The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME) Programme is a multinational initiative conceived in 1995 and involving the southwest African governments of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. It was designed to address the region’s transboundary marine challenges. Such challenges include the management of valuable fish stocks across national boundaries, harmful algal blooms, alien invasive species, and pollutants transported by winds and currents from the waters of one country to another. One of the major goals of the BCLME was to establish a Benguela Current Commission (BCC) to enable the three countries to engage constructively and peacefully in resolving transboundary issues that threaten the integrity of their shared ecosystem.

“As the first regional institution of its type in the world based on a Large Marine Ecosystem approach to ocean governance, the formation of the Benguela Current Commission has been an African success story,” says Mick O’Toole, a South African fisheries scientist and former regional coordinator of the BCLME programme. Through establishment of the BCC, ministers responsible for fisheries, environment, energy, mining, and tourism have worked to address issues such as the recovery of depleted fish stocks, restoration of degraded habitats, and reduction and control of coastal pollution.

Mike Sissenwine, a marine science consultant and former Director of Scientific Programs for the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, agrees that fisheries management in the LME represents a success for the region. “The Benguela LME is one of a few good examples of EBM that meets the challenges of cutting across scales,” he says. (Sissenwine wrote on the issue of scaling in ecosystem-based management in MEAM 1:2.)

One of the key tools enabling this integration has been Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis – a tool developed by Laurence Mee of the University of Plymouth (U.K.). The TDA assesses transboundary threats then uses that information to develop a strategic action plan to address those threats. In the BCLME, the TDA was done with broad stakeholder involvement to ensure ownership of the process and outputs. (Information on the TDA is on the project website at

Further development and implementation of EAF by the three Benguela countries will continue over the next five years, supported by the Benguela Current Commission. Notably, says O’Toole, the Commission is also set to extend its focus beyond just fisheries management. “The implementation of the EAF work will be done in a phased manner within the context of an overall ecosystem approach to ocean governance,” he says.

Without that broader focus on the ecosystem in general, EBFM without EBM may not be possible over the long term, even in this success story. Andrew Bakun, a marine biologist at the University of Miami, has studied the dynamics of southwest Africa’s marine ecology and suggests the ecosystem is changing in somewhat surprising ways. He has found that climate change in the region is causing wind patterns to change, which in turn produces a prolonged upwelling and a resultant surplus of phytoplankton. The phytoplankton are not consumed and ultimately sink to the seafloor, where they rot and contribute to hypoxia. “If fisheries ministers do not take such changes into consideration when setting their policies, a dead zone could form in the region, even with effective EBFM,” says Bakun. Fisheries management must account for climate changes or else risk undermining the ecosystem, which is one of the world’s most productive.

[Editor’s note: A 2007 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Results and Conclusions of the Project “Ecosystem Approaches for Fisheries Management in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem”, is available at]

For more information:

Mick O’Toole, Marine Institute, Rinville, Oranmore, Co. Galway, Ireland. E-mail:

Andrew Bakun, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, U.S. E-mail:

For a map of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem, go to

Note: The BCLME Programme was launched with funding from UNDP/GEF under the International Waters Programme (