Fishing as an industry in Somalia is a bag of mixed goodies. Economists believe that this is one area whose potential has largely gone untapped. Somalia’s bankers think it is one of the areas in need of urgent financing.
Fishermen acknowledge that they can do better but admit that the low number of people in the industry and low skills in fishing is a hindrance. Before the collapse of the government in 1991, the fisheries department was active.
Fishermen knew their nets and a vibrant market existed locally and abroad with the local and foreign fishing firms operating side by side. There was a reason for this during such peaceful times. As a natural resource, the Indian Ocean has bestowed on Somalia the longest coastline in the continent after the island of Madagascar. By 1987, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources indicated that the yearly volume of total fish harvested from the ocean was 19,546 tons. Soon after this, the volume of harvest went down considerably due to two main reasons: interference due to piracy which mainly scared off international fishing vessels and the conflict in Somalia.
Mr Mohamud Ali Farah, the director of Somalia Marine Products Company, who has been involved in the fishing industry for years explains: “Between 1991-2011, the fishing industry in Somalia lost more than it should have. The market, both local and international were interfered with. Fishing itself was brought to near halt as fewer fishermen went out to the ocean. In fact international fishing vessels, fearing pirates, ceased their operations here and the supply chain was destroyed.” Equipment and processing enterprises were not spared either. As a result, the once large industry was reduced to a source of food for subsistence among the people living by the coastline.
The situation was so bad that by 1998, lobster was the only surviving item for export marine product as it was exported to the United Arabs Emirates. Since the establishment of the Federal Government of Somalia, the situation has improved. Today, his company, like several others, that have started commercial fishing, can boast of an average catch of about one to two tons a day, even though their profit margins are still low.
Local fisheries industry, observers note, has since 2012 improved due to the peace, inflow of people from the Diaspora with more disposable income and interventions by the Turkish government, which has forged close working and trade relations with Somalia. Despite the sunny outlook, there are still challenges that continue to impede proper and sustainable growth of the industry.
Marine equipment needed for deep sea fishing like large trawlers are still out of reach for the local fishermen. The Mogadishu administration has also not set aside a section of the port for fishing vessels. Neither does it have a habour or fishing vessels dock. Poor cooling and processing plants pose another challenge. This challenges are further compounded by lack of adequately skilled manpower.
There are, however, fisheries and marine institutions being set up to address this need. In addition to the stated challenges, the fishermen, who use fiberglass boats, also have to worry about the inability to access financing from financial institutions and the absence of a regulatory body to set quality assurance standards and help monitor and regulate the market and pricing.
The market though, is growing. The food culture in Somalia is changing, training institutions are coming up and banks are considering the best ways to offer financing to fishermen. Mr Farah expects that by 2015, his firm, as most other fishing firms in Somalia will resume exporting. After all, Dubai, Vietnam, China and United Arabs Emirates have shown interest in doing business with Somalia fishing industry.