Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fishing – and issues of governability

24 March 2016, at 12:00am

TANZANIA - Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a global issue. Each year, global economic losses resulting from IUU fishing are estimated to lie between U$10 billion and U$23 billion.

IUU fishing has also been linked to habitat degradation and overfishing, the undermining of management plans to recover overexploited stocks, slavery, and threaten food security and employment. It is considered to be a wicked problem – there is no easy solution or technical fix. To combat IUU fishing, we need to consider the natural, social, and governance factors surrounding the issue.

Understanding how different perceptions as to what constitutes as IUU fishing is, Jospeh Luomba - a graduate student with Memorial University of Newfoundland argues, is crucial for understanding why IUU fishing can continue, even when programs to eradicate the issue have been developed.

Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake by surface area in the World, and the largest in Africa. Bordered by Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, Lake Victoria also supports the largest inland fishery in Africa.

In Tanzania, 70% of the total fish landed in the country comes from Lake Victoria alone, providing some U$500 million in economic value to the country. Despite the development of a Regional Plan of Action, designed to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU Fishing, it is still a significant problem in the lake. With the exception of Nile Perch, most fish caught in Lake Victoria is destined for local and regional consumption. As such IUU fishing presents issues for food security, as well as employment and economic losses throughout the region.

Focusing on Ijinga Island, Tanzania, Mr Luomba’s research into the stakeholders (fishers, processors, residents, and fishery managers) perceptions in relation to IUU fishing on The Lake produced some interesting results. Fishers indicated that the use of illegal gear, including using mesh size smaller than legally allowed, was not uncommon.

Whilst unselective fishing gear was regarded by all stakeholders as the most damaging activity in the area, there were differences in opinions on how damaging other activities were. For example, fishery managers considered the targeting of a single species by many fishers to be much more damaging than the other stakeholders did. In some cases, fishers appeared to be unaware that their activities were illegal and/or considered harmful to the sustainability of the fishery.

Fishery managers and the other stakeholders also differed in their opinions as to why IUU fishing still continued in the area. All groups agreed that poverty was the primary driving force of IUU fishing.

Whilst fishery managers ranked insufficient penalties/fines, and corruption as significant factors, the other stakeholders ranked these as pretty low of the list of causes. As for improving the situation in Lake Victoria, all groups agreed that strengthening enforcement and increasing consultation in the communities would be beneficial. The idea of using local leadership to enforce laws was strongly favoured by the fishery managers, but interestingly not by the other stakeholders.

Whilst Mr Lumboa’s study was small in scale, it does provide some key insights which could prove helpful in reducing IUU fishing in Lake Victoria. The existing policy to combat IUU fishing focuses on the fish stocks themselves, but not the causes of IUU fishing – such as poverty. Whilst combatting poverty isn’t an issue that fishery managers can realistically take on, addressing the different perceptions as to what constitutes as IUU fishing, and how it can impact the fishery could prove extremely useful.

In addition, improving consultation with stakeholders and sharing knowledge could help enhance community perception of the legitimacy of legislative measures, as well as identify areas where action could prove most effective in tackling this wicked problem.