By Sharon Atieno

The African fisheries sector has great potential to bring economic transformation to the continent, however, unchecked overcapacity and overfishing worsened by the poorly regulated common rights regime and the informal economy is crippling the sector.

It is estimated that the stocks of the inland and marine fisheries resources of the Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and Indian Ocean (EA-SA-IO) region constitute a massive natural renewable wealth of about EUR 50 billion. It generates a total annual gross income of not less than EUR 5 billion.

Despite the governments generating huge amounts in terms of revenue from the sector, investment return remains low.

In order to unleash the full potential for the fisheries sector in the continent, the Contribution of Sustainable Fisheries to the Blue Economy of EA-SA-IO region, popularly termed as Ecofish programme has been developed.

The European Union funded five-year programme seeks to support sustainable management and development of fisheries in order to contribute to poverty alleviation, food and nutrition security while addressing climate change resilience and enhancing marine biodiversity.

The welcoming panel during the commencement of the meeting

The programme which will be implemented in 19 countries within the EA-SA-IO region is divided into two main parts: fisheries management and fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS).

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains one of the greatest threats to the fisheries sector as it undermines national and regional efforts to manage the sector sustainably.

Overfishing, linked to IUU depletes the fish stock thus threatening livelihoods of fisher communities and exacerbating poverty. Moreover, some of the products derived from it also find their way into overseas trade markets thus throttling local food supply.

In an interview at the first Programme Steering Committee meeting held in Nairobi, Kenya, Pedro Guemes, MCS expert for the Ecofish programme notes that IUU is a complicated issue as it occurs in both small scale and large scale. He adds that the programme seeks to strengthen capacity to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU within the EA-SA-IO region.

Ecofish will give direct support to Fisheries Departments of Participating States of the Regional Programme for Fisheries Surveillance (PRSP) and other regional MCS mechanisms in the EA-SA-IO region to conduct MCS operations to combat IUU fishing through the provision of necessary equipment and logistic.

In addition, it will also facilitate co-ordination and information between different regional economic and fisheries organizations of the region.

Giving their recommendation on MCS at the closing of the two day deliberations, the delegates representing different regional economic and fisheries organizations of the region, said that for the project to be sustainable, there was need for lobbying the government and high level authorities from the Member States; and high level of commitment by the Member States through contributions to continue funding the activities.