Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Coastal African fishing communities  are at  greater risk of extinction as countries eye look to tourism, industrial fishing and exploration revenue to launch their “blue economies”, according to UN experts and activists.

The continent’s 38 coastal and island states have in recent years moved to tap ocean resources through commercial fishing, marine tourism and sea-bed mining, said the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca).

“There is a great risk and a great danger that those communities will be marginalised,” said Joseph Zelasney, a fishery officer at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“The resources that they depend on will be decimated,” he said on Monday at a side event at the Blue Economy Conference organised by Kenya, Canada and Japan in Nairobi.

The world’s poorest continent hosts a blue economy estimated at $1-trillion but loses $42bn a year to illegal fishing and logging of mangroves along the coast, according to Uneca estimates.

Seismic waves generated by prospectors to search for minerals, oil and gases on the ocean floor had scared away fish stocks, said Dawda Saine of the Confederation of African Artisanal Fishing in the Gambia.

“Noise and vibration drive fishes away, which means [fishermen] have to go further to fish,” Saine said.

Pollution from a vibrant tourism sector and foreign trawlers had reduced stocks along the Indian Ocean, Salim Mohamed, said a fisherman from Malindi in Kenya. “We suffer as artisanal fishers but all local regulation just look at us as the polluter and doesn’t go beyond that.”

Africa's fish stocks were being depleted by industrial trawlers combing the oceans to feed European and Asian markets, experts said. This threatened  livelihoods and food security for coastal communities.

Growth of blue economies in Africa could also take away common rights to land and water along the coastline and transfer them to corporations and a few individuals, said Andre Standing, adviser to the Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements.

Most of the land and beaches along Africa’s thousands of kilometres of coastline was untitled, making it a target for illegal acquisition, activists said.

“There is a great worry that we could see privatisation of areas that were previously open to these communities,” Standing said.

“We need to have a radical vision that values communities and livelihoods or they will become extinct.” 

Reuters