Somalia: Chinese deal angers fishing communities, sparks concerns over sovereignty and piracy

A new fishing deal signed between the Somalia government and vessels tied to the China Overseas Fisheries Association raises serious questions. Some Somalis, particularly those in the fishing community, worry that their livelihoods will be gutted, while others fear a return of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Somalia Fisheries Ministry website, this deal allows 31 Chinese long line vessels to fish for “tuna and tuna-like species” for one year, a deal automatically renewed each year. The boats will be able to fish 24 nautical miles from shore within Somali territorial waters.

While the agreement requires the use of trackers so that vessels stay within the nautical boundaries of the deal, there is serious concern that the Somali fishing community will lose out because the ministry will not be able to monitor the catch. Some people are also concerned that the use of trackers will not go far enough to ensure the boundaries outlined in the deal are respected..

As a former Somali minister for natural resources, MP Mohamed said he had spoken to people close to the negotiations who felt that Somalia would be losing out. According to the deal, China would be paying just over one million US dollars [912,000 euros] for 31 fishing licenses. He also pointed out that the actual terms of the contract have never been revealed.

Lawmaker Mohamed says . “There are small-scale fishing communities that have been suffering from the illegal fishing that has been taking place in our high seas; if you add that to the fact that they have the legal right to exploit our resources, then I think that we will even suffer more,” he said.

In his constituency, people are concerned about the impact this deal would have on everyone.
“Everyone is speaking about this, expressing their concerns. People are talking about it on radio stations,” he said, describing their frustration.

The hit on people’s livelihoods is not the only problem many question what sort of overall value this will have for the Somali economy, said expert Hansen, author of Al-Shabaab in Somalia, a book about the hardline militant group.

Somalis interviewed by Oceans Beyond Piracy, a US-based program run by One Earth Future thinktank said they turned to piracy owing to unemployment, poverty, and frustrations about illegal fishing.

Although the government maintains that this Chinese deal was signed to benefit Somali development, others believe its one-sidedness could lead to a rise in piracy.

The agreement signed by the Chinese stipulates that the Somalia Ministry of Fisheries “is the only entity which can legally issue licences for fishing vessels to operate in the Somali Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),” effectively removing jurisdiction of self-declared country Somaliland.
Somaliland, although not officially recognized, is composed of six regions- three to the east, sharing a border with its autonomous neighbour Puntland, and three to the west, bordering Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Somalia does not recognize Somaliland. The Chinese deal apparently covers their waters in the north and northeast as well  even though Somaliland does not recognize the agreement.
Somaliland experts do not rule out signing deals with the Chinese, but the Somaliland authorities must be consulted, said Robleh Mohamud Raghe, an analyst and former consultant to the Somaliland presidency.

Somaliland fishing communities have to contend with a number of issues, from getting and maintaining better equipment, to fish storage, and transportation to bigger markets. Ali said that there are now cold chain facilities on six sites in Somaliland, in order to accommodate the catch.
According to the Sea Around Us report, “Somalis seeking long-term fishing sector stability and investors and international donors seeking the best return on their investments should steer away from unsustainably fished yellowfin tuna and instead target skipjack, bigeye, and kawakawa tuna.”