Limbe, Cameroon – After spending almost 24 hours at sea, Henry Maloke only was able to catch a handful of black catfish with fishing net at the Limbe wharf, a seashore town in South West Region of Cameroon.
In the past when the ocean was heaving with life and healthy, the 64-year old Maloke could come back home after only a few hours with a bursting net. The event has changed.
Fishermen from China are running away with everything, leaving our shore empty, complains Maloke. He added that it was a disaster while looking at the ocean’s limit.
The increasing demand for seafood in China is the main cause of Chinese fishing vessels moving beyond their territories. For instance, between 1990 and 2010 the consumption grew by six percent per annum in China and the projection is for it to grow tremendously by thirty percent in 2030.
But, the increase in consumption is being responded by diminishing supply in the South China Sea, prompting to often clashes between the other coastal states and Chinese fishermen.
This event results to having Chinese fishing vessels moving away towards the West African coast where competition is lesser and regulatory frameworks are weaker.
Maloke said that they used to have plentiful fish between February and September, but these days Cameroonian fishermen come home with practically nothing on their nets.
Celine Enanga, a businesswoman involved in the fish business for over 25 years complains that her revenue has gone down by over 70% brought about by the fish drought particularly in Limbe.
15 years in the past, she was able to makeCFA 60,000 per day by selling and roasting fish. Today, she is only able to merely make CFA 15,000.
The situation could have been prevented if the Chinese limits their fishing to international waters declared by Walters Adu Ndi of the South West Regional Delegate for Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries.
However, the Chinese are trespassing into territorial waters and employ all sorts of maneuvers to avoid law enforcement.
Accordingly, the industrial fishing ships the Chinese are using are not supposed to penetrate the three nautical miles coastal regions. These regions are set aside for artisanal fishermen and are mainly use for the purpose of reproduction to guarantee sustainability.
However, Adu Ndi notes that they have repeatedly receive complaints that Chinese vessels have been encroaching into regions intended for artisanal fishing. The Chinese are into destructive method of exploiting the fishing resources of Cameroon as they catch almost all kinds of fish in the waters.
According to Lt. Col. Emmanuel Sone Ngonge, Commander of the Limbe Naval Base; six Chinese fishing vessels were seized illegally fishing in the waters of Cameroon in July 2016.
Similar to the West African neighbours, Cameroon’s fish supply is being devastated by an exceptional global threat: illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) pirate fishing.
Ahmed Diame, Greenpeace Africa Oceans campaigner, in a telephone interview with IDN from Senegal said that the rate of illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing undertakings by Chinese trawlers in West Africa is crucial. Greenpeace investigations published in May 2015 revealed that about 84 cases of IUU involved 74 trawlers either operated or owned by Chinese companies within 4 countries. These cases happened between 2000 and 2014.
Apparently, not only Chinese fishing vessels are involved in illegal fishing, but also Korea, Russia, and EU countries, according to Greenpeace.
Corruption is another cause of the problems in fishing along West African coast. Despite reports on the illegal activities by Chinese vessels, fraud still exists in 2015.
To prevent the diminishing supply of fishes in countries such as Cameroon, countries along the African coastal waters should have strong political will to activate the important resources to facilitate their services to fight IUU fishing and to take firm action against corruption and promote transparency.
With the dwindling maritime stocks of Cameroon, the ministry who handles fisheries is encouraging Cameroonians to shift to aquaculture while the fight against IUU is ongoing.
Various methods for fish farming are available according to Divine Ngalla Tombush, sub-director handling aquaculture in the ministry. Consequently, aquaculture may succeed in Cameroon as there are about 4 million hectares of inland water available for fish farming. Aquaculture may also offset the shortage as the country is importing 200,000 metric tonnes of fish yearly.