In recent years, there has been a boom in the exploitation of offshore oil, gas and minerals in many ACP coastal countries. Increasing concerns are being voiced about the impacts this may have on fishing sector development in these countries.
In Namibia, the fishing industry is currently trying to delay a seismic survey in Namibian waters since it coincides with the peak of the tuna fishing season. At the end of November 2013, a government commissioned study revealed that tuna catches went down from 4,046 tonnes in 2011 to 650 tonnes in 2013, owing to offshore oil and gas exploration. Similar exploration is in the pipeline in South African waters, at the border with Namibia; “in the direct path of tuna migrating from South Africa to Namibia,” highlighted the Policy Planning director at the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
In Papua New Guinea, various media have recently reported on the Nautilus Minerals company project to exploit seabed minerals, including a press article entitled “Mining the Abyss”, which highlighted the negative impacts that this exploitation will have on local fishing communities’ activities. Nautilus Minerals’ country manager argued, however, that “there is a bright prospect in cooperation with the tuna fishery sector”, explaining that most of the tuna live in the sea within the first 400 metres of the ocean while “deep-sea mining operations will be conducted at a depth of 1,600 metres below the surface, where there is minimal marine life”.
In Mozambique – which is about to start renegotiating its SFPA protocol with the EU – a new tuna company, Ematum, was established for the development of a local tuna fishery. Until now, the government’s income from tuna fisheries has been restricted to selling licences to foreign companies that do not land any of their catch in the country. Ematum signed a boat-building contract with the northern French shipyard, CMN, for building 30 vessels, comprising 24 tuna fishing vessels and six patrol vessels.
Patrol vessels are needed to protect the fishing fleet, but will also be used to secure offshore oil and gas installations. The impacts of oil and gas exploitation on the development of the tuna fishery are currently unclear.
Oil, gas and mineral exploitation increasingly form a key economic sector in many ACP countries – much more than fisheries exploitation, especially when one considers that some fisheries’ benefits are often limited to the payment of access fees (e.g. Mozambican tuna fisheries). The mineral exploitation of the sea has been accused, particularly by the local fishing sector, of having detrimental effects on fisheries. Increasing the benefits of fisheries exploitation for the coastal countries – through, for example, SFPAs with the EU (e.g. local landings) – may help fisheries’ interests to be better protected by coastal countries. These developments also call for the integration of the fisheries policy in ACP countries into a wider maritime policy, to ensure that the various users of the sea can cohabit and provide maximum economic and social benefits to local populations while respecting marine ecosystems. Inasmuch as this approach (i.e. developing an integrated maritime policy) has recently been used in the EU, it could be helpful for the EU and ACP countries to open up a dialogue on this topic.