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Updated Feb 12, 2020

Illegal fishing in Somalia is a perennial problem, one that ties into broader struggles afflicting the coastal Horn of Africa nation as it cuts into vital revenue the state needs to rebuild and combat the al-Shabab terrorist insurgency while also inciting conflict between domestic and foreign fishers. For close to 70 years, foreign fishers have trawled the Somali coastline largely unchallenged, and the collapse of the government in 1991 then left the more than 3,300 kilometers of coastline completely unprotected.

A new study by Secure Fisheries, headed by acting director Sarah Glaser, found that illegal fishing has taken millions of tons of fish out of the formal Somali economy. The report notes that this most negatively impacts coastal communities dependent on fishing for their livelihoods, as they are forced to compete in an unfair scenario for finite resources. Illegal trawling has also damaged local ecosystems, disturbing sensitive fish stocks and hindering the Somali government’s ability to develop a sustainable management plan. It also makes it more difficult for coastal Somali communities to recover after natural disasters and storms, a problem that will only get worse as climate change exacerbates these conditions.

In a second report also released by Secure Fisheries, the damage illegal fishing inflicts on Somalia’s political, civil, and economic life is expanded upon. Even before 1991, the report states, Somalia had weak fishing laws. Foreign captains would regularly violate Somalia’s exclusive economic zone as fish stocks dried up in their native countries’ waters. A lack of effective patrolling of Somali waters emboldened non-licensed ships to continue, with little recourse at the international level for Somali communities, as there is a profound lack of a global legal framework regarding the prosecution of illegal fishing crimes. 

In the report’s conclusion, the researchers urge the international community to take greater responsibility for its respective fishing fleets and to strengthen international legal structures related to fisheries protection.

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