KRIBI, Cameroon — Mboa Mbanga is a landing stage in the coastal city of Kribi in Cameroon’s South region. For the past 17 years, Biliaga has supported his family and sent his kids to school with the money he makes from hauling fish to this landing stage. Raised in a fishing community, Biliaga is concerned about the impact of unchecked industrial fishing.
He describes his meeting with trawlers that engage in commercial fishing while leaning on a boat. His eyes sparkle with emotion as he recalls how a trawler wrecked his net and fish at sea. Above all, he asserts that “These trawlers are like criminals. We wouldn’t suffer if the state could keep the trawlers under control. The government has granted them unrestricted access at sea, and this will cause the ocean’s fish population to collapse.”
“The trawlers grab the smallest of the fish, and because they are large machinery, we cannot fish when they are around. When the trawlers go around the oceans searching for fish, they bring our nets with them. Even our coworker was killed,”, Biliaga narrates.
For his safety, Biliaga says when he sees the trawlers being helped by the uniformed men in the water, he abandons his net and flees for his life.
Two trawlers strap a net in between and sweep the ocean of fish, catching everything fish on its route, from the smallest to the biggest, aside from ruining fishermen’s nets and depriving them of their catch.
While trawlers are expected to fish from a depth of 7 km (22965.88 feet), artisanal fishing is permitted up to 7 km (22965.88 feet) from the shore. Trawlers, however, approach the shore to fish in areas where artisanal fishing isn’t permitted.
The fishing sector in Cameroon faces a number of challenges, including the lack of information on fisheries, the expansion of industrial fishing from abroad, and illicit, uncontrolled, and unregulated fishing, in addition to overfishing caused by insufficient legislation.
The contribution of fish production to Cameroon’s economy stands at 3 percent per year.
In 2022, 55% of the ships in Cameroon’s fleet, according to data by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), were added in the previous five years. 90% of the fleet’s total tonnage, or 94% of the new ships, are owned by foreign, not Cameroonian corporations and a significant portion of them operate beyond Cameroon’s territorial waters.
The European Union Commission issued Cameroon a “yellow card” on February 17, 2021, for failing to adequately monitor, regulate, and oversee fishing vessels that wear the Cameroon flag. Without enough oversight, Cameroon permitted ships flying the Cameroon flag to operate outside its territorial waters. The European Commission issued a “red card” on January 5th, 2023, which was two years later.
The sustainable exploitation of the sea is a major problem on the continent. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is one of the biggest hazards to the marine environment, according to the European Commission. African nations with high rates of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing are the main threat to fish populations and cause the degradation of marine biodiversity in Cameroon.
Dr Meke Soun Pierre coordinator of Fish4ACP project, an initiative from African Caribbean and Pacific Countries, ACP funded by the European Union and the German Cooperation, implemented by FAO and the Ministry of Livestock Fisheries and Animal Husbandry, says the EU ban conditions how the fish is caught and preserved. It also seeks to know where the fish is from, the landing station, and trace fishing activities.
“Cameroonian products such as shrimps are whole frozen at sea, and by stocking them on land they should be under very cold temperatures, -18 degrees before they are exported and there is a need to trace the temperatures from the sea to the final destination.”
To reverse the European Union’s ban, Cameroon is therefore adjusting in terms of value chain actors to export fish products complying with international laws. A platform has been created where industrial fisheries, value chain actors, and small-scale fisheries are being upgraded to comply with the conditions.
“Fishing with trawlers has an impact on the ocean, on the composition of the fish caught, so there is a need to reduce fishing to enable the young fish to regenerate. For good conservation techniques, there is a need for the fish to reproduce at least once before they are caught”, Meke states.
An initiative to address IUU fishing in Cameroon was started in 2022 by a coalition of three organizations: the African Marine Mammal Organization (AMMCO), the Ministry of Livestock Fisheries and Animal Industries (MINEPIA), and the Environment Justice Foundation (EJF). This project was titled “Supporting Cameroon’s Government Efforts to Improve Fishery Management and Stop IUU Fishing.”
Younoussa Abbosouka, a campaigner with the Environmental Justice Foundation, states that Guinea is an example of how their organization has helped governments maintain openness.
When operating at sea, vessels must leave open their Automatic Information System, AIS, which helps prevent maritime collisions, and Maritime Monitoring System, MMS, which tracks the ship at sea. These are aspects now included in the new legal framework besides other international principles to curb IUU fishing. The crafting of the new fishing law was financed by Ocean 5.
One of the most crucial provisions of the EJF is the publication of the number of ships authorized in Cameroon. Working with the government, EJF helped to publish a list of 40 vessels authorized in Cameroon waters down from about 200, for the first time. The list can be found online.
Guy Otete Bikimi controller at the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries says participatory surveillance and a collaborative cadre between the administrations in charge of transportation, have been established. There are plans to modernize the fishing port in Douala.
The fishing legislation of Cameroon was enacted in 1994. Since then there have been other international laws that Cameroon has to abide by; sanctions were quite meager, but the new legislature under reform expected by the end of 2023 is taking serious sanctions to deter offenders.