WHAT IT MEANSIllegal fishing in Yemeni waters [Archives:2008/1126/Local News]

February 4 2008

Dr. Ali Al-Asali
Yemen's fisheries sector increasingly has contributed to its food supplies and security, with an estimated 70 percent of fresh and canned fish caught annually going for domestic consumption. The per capita average increased from 6 kilograms in 2002 to 9 kilograms in 2004. Although well below international levels, this per capita average has reduced red meat imports.

The fisheries sector provided more than 315,000 jobs in 2004, compared to only 100,000 in 1990. This significant sector employs approximately 65 thousand people and 250,000 others in related activities such as marketing and selling fish.

Yemen's fisheries workforce represents approximately 3.5 percent of its overall economically active population, supporting some 1.7 million dependents, or 8.6 percent of the nation's total population.

Fishing pirates

Fish resources, marine organisms and fish fauna at numerous points along the Yemeni coasts of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea are wasted, destroyed and looted, thus jeopardizing the country's fisheries.

Available information indicates that at least 60 active multinational fishing vessels, some of which are unlicensed, are operating in Yemeni waters. Not only do they fish a mere 25 kilometers off the Yemeni coast, they use explosives to force fish outside their habitats.

Undoubtedly, current fish production levels don't meet Yemenis' needs, especially given the nation's growing population, which is causing dwindling per capita shares of fish, poorer health standards and worse conditions in general.

The Yemeni government decided in 1996 to allow Arab and foreign firms to operate in its territorial waters for a fee, which provided the public treasury with considerable revenue, 20 percent of the harvested quantity. However, the move didn't include those firms fishing in deeper waters (200 meters).

As a result of lax controls and monitoring of such waters due to lacking means of control and an insufficient presence by coast guards to protect Yemeni economic waters in deep-sea areas, hundreds of thousands of tons of fish remained untapped.

Deep-sea fish account for only 4 percent of annually produced fish. This led to fishing companies – both ministry-licensed and unlicensed – to continue fishing by flouting the restrictions included in the licenses.

The most flagrant violation is damaging the marine environment by wiping out marine plants, coral reefs and harming fish reserves, in addition to catching all types of fish, regardless of season. Such acts of destruction and vandalism incur heavy losses for Yemen's economy, both now and in the future.

Government efforts

The Yemeni government is keen to conserve and protect its marine environment, but protecting and preserving fishery resources and marine ecosystems requires cooperation by many countries because a sea isn't the sole property of any single country. For example, the Red Sea is one marine entity whose waters are inseparable, as fish are living organisms that move from one place to another.

Of course, what happens on Eritrean shores affects Yemeni shores, just as what happens on Egyptian shores affects Djibouti's shore. This means there must be coordination among those countries located on the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, not only to protect marine life but also to fund and conduct pertinent studies. In this regard, Yemen has ratified numerous international and regional treaties and agreements seeking to coordinate multiparty efforts.

In order to enhance control measures, Yemen's Ministry of Fishery Resources introduced a satellite monitoring system in 2003 to control and monitor the activity of unlicensed commercial fishing boats. The European Union financed the $3 million project, which focuses on developing the fishery sector's potential by establishing completely effective controls to ensure sustainable use of living marine resources.

Another of the project's objectives is to establish an accurate state-of-the-art system for marine inspection and control, in addition to improving the administrative, technical, legal and financial capabilities of local staff and providing the necessary levels of control and inspection in order to enforce applicable laws, regulations and rules in connection with fisheries conservation and protection.

Ideal exploitation of living marine resources entails rational usage based on scientific principles and a balance between marine organism production and annual renewable yield. This can be achieved only by conducting scientific studies on marine populations to determine the areas where they live, where and when they reproduce, the volume of their reserves, their maximum sustainable annual fishable yield and fishing efforts during the fishing season.

Further, it necessitates defining the specific time and area of the fishing season, the maximum annual production of each type of commercial fish, the fishing effort (including number of boats, fishing days, etc.), prohibiting harvesting where and when fish reproduce and activating marine controls and inspection to ensure implementation

None of the above excludes the need for a Yemeni fishing fleet to replace Arab and foreign companies' boats in order to protect Yemen's fishing reserves and optimize their use. The illegal presence of foreign fishing vessels in contiguous waters must be stopped and no outsiders should be allowed to fish in Yemeni waters without permission by Yemeni authorities.

Other measures include prohibiting any acts that damage marine ecology within the economic zone, including dumping garbage, discharging oil, detonating explosives, dredging seabeds, etc.

Dr. Ali Al-Asali holds a doctorate in agricultural economics and a minor in fisheries marketing from Iraq's Baghdad University, the author teaches at Sana'a University's Faculty of Agriculture.