Mr Hachim El Ayoubi is Executive Secretary of the Ministerial Conference on Fisheries Cooperation among African States Bordering the Atlantic Ocean (ATLAFCO / COMHAFAT). He previously worked for the West Africa Sub-regional Fisheries Committee (SRFC).
Q: There are already several regional organisations active in West Africa fisheries, such as the West Africa Sub-regional Fisheries Committee (SRFC), the Regional Fisheries Committee of the Gulf of Guinea (COREP), the Committee for Eastern Central Atlantic Fisheries (CECAF) etc. What is the specificity – the 'value added' – of ATLAFCO?
I would first like to mention the area covered by ATLAFCO: 22 countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean are members, from Morocco to Namibia. Put end to end, the length of their coastline extends over 14,600 km, and covers several large marine ecosystems. Together, the ATLAFCO countries have a population of 353 million, of which 146 million live in Nigeria. Fisheries create about 5 million jobs in the region, and the industry generates, on average, 25 to 30% of export revenues. To give an example, the export of fish products from members of the ATLAFCO countries to the EU reaches a figure of nearly €1.5 billion per year! ATLAFCO is an ideal tool for promoting and strengthening fisheries cooperation between all these states, which are facing the same challenges. To strengthen their capacity to respond to these challenges, our areas of intervention are varied, ranging from the evaluation and conservation of highly migratory species, to the marketing of fishery products, or the strengthening of technical and professional training.
Q: You talk about common challenges. Concerning the challenge of food security, what strategy is followed by ATLAFCO, given that a large part of the population of the region lives in countries – Nigeria, which you mentioned – where there is a deficit in fish supply?
It is clear that improving long-term supply of the markets will be achieved through a production based on sustainable fisheries and a better use of the fish catches. But there is another element on which I would like to insist, which is the important potential of aquaculture development in our region, and the contribution it can make to the supply of local markets. To express this potential fully, requires improved knowledge and the transfer of technologies and know-how in aquaculture. And ATLAFCO contributes to this. For example, we organised a seminar last year, in partnership with the authorities of Gabon, on the strategies for developing commercial aquaculture in the ATLAFCO region.
Q: But at present, aquaculture in sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 1% of world production. So, what is ATLAFCO doing for the promotion of this sector?
It is true that African aquaculture is still in its infancy, but there is great dynamism in this sector at the regional level: some member countries of ATLAFCO, such as Nigeria or Ghana – countries where there is a deficit in fish supply – are recording a considerable development in their aquaculture sector.
It is often freshwater species which are farmed with the highest success: modern Nigerian hatcheries produce more than half a million catfish fry per month, and there are in this country 5,000 catfish farms. Tilapia production also increased substantially, especially in Zimbabwe and Ghana.
It is the whole industry that is growing: hatcheries, farms, factories for quality fish feed, etc.
The increase in aquaculture production responds to a growing demand for fish, but it also corresponds to the reduction of catches in industrial and artisanal fishing. In fact, the resulting increase in the price of fish in some countries of the region has made aquaculture an economically profitable solution.
As you can see, it is the sector as a whole that is growing and needs the coordinated support of institutions. The role of ATLAFCO is to support these efforts.
Q: Are these farmed products also supplying international export markets, in particular the European markets?
There is now a strong demand for fish on national and regional markets, and this is beginning to replace the international markets. At the seminar organised by ATLAFCO in partnership with Gabon authorities, we witnessed the case of a company which previously exported 80% of its production to the European and American markets, and which, thanks to the opening of regional markets and the prices that they offer, now exports most of its products onto these markets.
Regional trade agreements can play a beneficial role in this context, opening marketing channels between countries for fisheries and aquaculture products.
For example, the trade agreement recently concluded in East Africa has significantly improved the movement of goods in this region, including fish (live fry, fresh or processed fish) between the markets of the Kenya, Uganda, and between Rwanda and Sudan. This is an example we need to follow.
Q: Whether in production – fishing or aquaculture – or in marketing, the role of the private sector is central. Is ATLAFCO also supporting the efforts of the private sector?
The promotion of the involvement of the private sector is indeed an important element at the heart of our activities.
For example, given the central role of women in the improvement of sanitary conditions in fisheries production, we have supported the setting up of a women fishmongers network –the RAFEP – and we are developing within this network actions to improve the quality of the products, through the introduction and implementation of quality and hygiene standards throughout the region.
Indeed, quality and sanitary aspects are key for accessing international markets – too often, they can become non-tariff barriers – as well as for local consumption. The training of women in complying with these standards is essential so that they can enhance the quality of their products and access new markets.
I would also like to mention another common challenge facing ATLAFCO member states, which requires that we build up a dialogue with other stakeholders: reinforcing the capacity for scientific research.
If we want to arrive at a better understanding of marine ecosystems and resources, there must be closer cooperation between research institutes, and we strive to support this by the twinning of regional research institutes, and by opening the research to the scientific work that is carried out at the international level. With ATLAFCO support, the African network of Marine Science institutes (RAFISMER) was created in 2001, with the objective of promoting research and exchange of information between Member States, defining research priorities in the various sub regions of our zone, and reinforce scientific capacities. In that area, ATLAFCO has just decided to fund a new fisheries research campaign in the region, which will take place this summer, for the benefit of ten of our member states. Five similar operations have already been organised in the past. It is through this type of regional initiative that the member states’ capacities are strengthened.
But in the field of the protection and preservation of the marine environment and its resources, ATLAFCO also supports the harmonisation of policies of the member states, and the coordination of their action, including in international forums.
Q: Do you also play a role in the development and implementation of international regulations?
It is essential that our members have an active presence and speak with one voice in international forums, such as ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the FAO.
As an example: the future of the tuna fishery in the Atlantic region, which is covered by ICCAT, affects directly two-thirds of our member states: Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, Mauritania, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, etc.
We felt that it was therefore extremely important for ATLAFCO to mobilise these countries in order to participate actively in the work of ICCAT.
Thus, we organised the participation of 15 delegates to the 22nd regular meeting of ICCAT in late 2010 in Istanbul. Preparatory work, for coordination and harmonisation of positions, was undertaken. At the meeting, ATLAFCO delegates supported the introduction of strong measures, which were deemed necessary to ensure the conservation and exploitation of tuna resources, which are under high pressure, because it is in our common interest in the long term.
We also obtained the Chair of a Committee for Côte d’Ivoire ; and South Africa – which had proposed collaboration and requested the support of ATLAFCO – received the Vice-Presidency of the Commission. It is also in this way – by being more active and more present in these international forums – that we can best make African concerns heard in relation to fisheries and aquaculture.