Berbera — Rusting hulks of capsized boats decorate the waters around Berbera, a port city in the self-declared republic of Somaliland. Further down Somalia’s coast, pirates raid freighters in the Gulf of Aden.
Efforts are underway to help Somalis make better use of their 3,300km coastline – the longest on the African continent – by increasing fishing and seafood exports to lucrative markets in the Middle East and Europe.
In 2013, the European Union will spend US$6.5 million to help Somaliland pursue its long-term goal of netting 120,000 tons of seafood each year, the sale of which could generate $1.2 billion in foreign currency.
“In Somalia, people have lived for a long time with their backs to the sea,” says Isabel Faria de Almedia, the EU development chief for Somalia. “It’s a country of agro-pastoralists with a strong nomadic tradition. We think there is a huge potential for the consumption and export of fish.”
Until the second half of the 20 th century, few Somalis outside fishing communities consumed fish and the sector was entirely artisanal in nature. This began to change in the 1970s with the development of better cold-storage facilities and the creation, with Soviet help, of an industrial fleet. But, for want of spare parts and maintenance, these vessels quickly fell into disuse. (See here for a detailed, if slightly dated overview of the Somali fishing industry.)
Luring pirates away from piracy
In the middle of the last decade, Somali fishermen complained they were being forced into piracy by foreign trawlers operating illegally in waters claimed by Somalia.
Coastal Somalis recount as a “eureka” moment the time self-appointed coastguards impounded a foreign trawler and levied a fine on its owners; they quickly realized seizing vessels was more lucrative than competing with commercial vessels for dwindling fish stocks.
Amina Farah Arshe, who employs 40 fishermen aboard 11 vessels from Berbera, the main port of Somaliland, says fishing revenues could provide an alternative to raiding freighters far into the Indian Ocean.
“We can stop it by empowering the people. We can stop it by giving jobs to the youth. People would make money, the government would collect tax revenues, and piracy would diminish,” she said. “But we need support. We need training, boats, fishing gear and cold storage.”
For years, the United Nations has said that tackling Somali piracy should involve creating work for the jobless young Somalis who board skiffs, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, to hunt vessels on the high seas.