Africa fish stocks are falling

Posted on September 8, 2016 04:13 am

According to statistics, Africa still catch enough fish to eat and although the stocks are dwindling, there’s still enough for local consumption and export. The numbers of fish caught from water bodies like Lake Victoria haven’t kept up with human population growth and unsustainable fish farms have filled the gap.The health benefits are for eating fish include the protein which is typically low in saturated fats and high in nutrients and essential fatty acids. Some African fisheries do exist that successfully balance production and sustainability, but many more are under increasing pressure from over exploitation like in Lake Victoria, destructive fishing practises like trawling and dredging, pollution or other factors. As Africa population continues to expand these pressures are likely to intensify, not decrease.Over the past 20 years fisheries have rapidly expanded and today fish is one of Africa’s top commodities.For a continent surrounded by the sea, Africans have never been especially ardent lovers of fish.Due to poor transport networks, fish spoils rapidly unless salted or smoked. The formation of economic zones has forced a return to home grounds and it has become ever more apparent that fish has been over exploited and stocks are seriously depleted.This can be partly attributed to a loss of markets and restriction of traditional fishing grounds but many fish stocks are also at historically low levels. During this period, Africa population has also increased and to keep up with demand as well as diversify fish supply, greater and greater quantities of fish are sourced from other nations’ waters.

Lake Victoria in this file photo I took four years ago near Ssese, is one of the most over fished lakes in Africa
Lake Victoria in this file photo I took four years ago near Ssese, is one of the most over fished lakes in Africa

Clearly, fish supply is not merely a domestic issue and policies that support increased consumption at the national level must also strive to adopt a more regional outlook.For example, the quantity of domestic fish available through landings and aquaculture per person in Africa plummeted throughout the last decade, with overall supplies only kept stable by imports from China. But even despite this declining supply Africa consumers still eat less fish than the recommended two portions of 250 g per week, which is fortunate really, since only twice in the past 30 years have supplies been sufficient to meet this aspiration. If demand should rise further, either through population growth or changes in consumer preference, it is likely that even more extra fish will have to be sourced from other continents.Increased imports are not necessarily an indication of unsustainability, but they do demonstrate the potential for African countries to mask domestic shortfalls in wild fish. This experience is not just restricted to Africa because other regions also imports the fish they consumes.While developing countries in Africa are able to mask domestic declines, this is not the case in societies that rely upon fish as their major source of protein. When human population growth is taken into account, wild fish availability per person in Africa has been in decline since 2000.Africa fish supplies have only been stabilised by increasing aquaculture production, which is currently exceeding the pace of human population growth. Yet fish farms come with associated environmental costs of habitat loss, pollution, introduced species, pests and diseases, which will need to be addressed if aquaculture production is to keep up with future population growth in Africa.Though aquaculture has so far prevented a downturn in Africa’s fish supplies, many African countries continue to aspire to consume more fish than they produce. Until demand is balanced with sustainable methods of production, African governments should consider carefully the social and environmental implications of local policies that promote fish consumption.

Contador Harrison