African Leaders, Experts Try To Head Off Looming Fish Supply Crisis

The quantity of fish available per person worldwide grew during the last two decades but declined in Africa, raising concerns about how to guarantee supplies of a main source of protein for a hungry continent.

LAGOS, Nigeria — The quantity of fish available per person worldwide grew during the last two decades but declined in Africa, raising concerns about how to guarantee supplies of a main source of protein for a hungry continent.

Simple steps to increase fish farming in Africa could solve the problem -- and increase jobs and improve health in the bargain, researchers said Monday as political leaders and fisheries experts gathered in Nigeria to explore how investment and new technical skills can boost dwindling fish stocks.

Africa's perennial struggles to feed itself have drawn new attention in recent weeks, with West Africa hard hit after a locust invasion last year followed by drought. Poor rains and other problems are contributing to food shortages in the east and south as well. The United Nations estimates one in three people on the world's poorest continent lack enough food each day. Experts say long-term development, not emergency aid, is the answer.

A study conducted for the New Partnership for Africa's Development, a continentwide campaign by the African Union to fight poverty and encourage economic growth, said yearly fish supplies per person around the world increased from 26 pounds in 1973 to 35 pounds in 1997. In Africa during the same period, they declined from 20 pounds to about 15.

The study by the Malaysia-based WorldFish Center also found that fish farming accounts for 38 percent of supplies worldwide, but only 2 percent of African supplies.


While experts discussed the need for the African fishing industry to adapt, fishermen on the continent said they were facing decreasing stocks because foreigners were taking fish from their waters using "drift chains" of giant nets.

"Since the early 1990s when drift chains were introduced in fishing, which go deep down to the sea and catch all sizes of fish, line fishing has deteriorated considerably," Sulaiman Kamara, chairman of Sierra Leonean Line Fishermen Committee, said in an interview in the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown. "Security at our territorial waters should be beefed up."

Fishermen in the West African country are accustomed to catching sardines, lobster, crab, squid, octopus, grouper, kuta, bonita and shrimp.

In Nigeria, Mushin Ayinla, a fisherman who trawls the Lagos lagoon in his dugout, is worried about his dwindling catch.

"Every day we work from morning `til night and we don't catch as much fish as in the past," Ayinla said.

"Today all we've been able to get are these small things," he added, showing his catch of tiny croakers.

Patrick Dugan of the WorldFish Center said African fishing communities have good reason to complain about the harm to their catch by foreign trawlers, some of which are in African waters on the basis of fishery agreements signed by their governments and the European Union.

"That certainly is one dimension of the problem," Dugan said. "There's a need to look very carefully at all of these fisheries agreements and foster those beneficial to African countries. But even that is not enough."

But he said there still is need to invest in aquaculture to "increase the quantity of fish and diversity of existing fish in the market."

The WorldFish Center said that to maintain current consumption levels in sub-Saharan Africa -- where today some 200 million people out of a population of 690 million eat fish regularly -- supplies would have to be increased by over 20 percent by 2015. But the center estimated that could be achieved by tapping only 5 percent of Africa's fish farming, or aquaculture, potential.

"Significant increases are possible with the right combination of government policy and technical interventions," Dugan said.

"Small-scale aquaculture requires low-cost labor and doesn't require much investment and effort once the ponds have been set up."

Experts believe more farming will provide opportunities for employment and improve nutrition for Africa's poor, including those affected by HIV/AIDS, a leading killer on a continent plagued by food crises.

Small fish ponds have proved a valuable resource for families hit by HIV/AIDS in Malawi, providing a source of nutrition to help boost the immunity of those infected and providing income for the families of widows and orphans, said Daniel Jamu, who works for the WorldFish Center in southern Africa.

"Their nutrition has improved because they are eating fish and they are using the income from selling excess catch to obtain medical attention, including HIV and AIDS care and medicines," he said.

Source: Associated Press