Currently, about 50 percent of the animal protein supply in Gambia comes from fish. With an 80 km marine coastline enriched by the nutrients flowing from the Gambia River, Gambia’s marine waters attract many commercial species that feed and spawn in the area. There is also great potential for freshwater fisheries. However, the enormous potential of West Africa’s ‘blue treasure’ – its fisheries and aquaculture resources – has not yet been fully unlocked.
However, taxes must be managed wisely. Otherwise, there is a risk that a few will reap all the fruits of it, or that a short-term approach will lead to wealth being squandered. That is why the ECOWAS member states recently adopted a common new roadmap (the comprehensive strategic framework for fisheries and aquaculture development, or CSFS FAD) to develop the sector sustainably and make it work for nutrition, welfare and sustainable growth.
The new framework is based on a series of diagnostic pieces of the situation and policies of fisheries and aquaculture in each of the Member States, and follows a participatory, inclusive and equitable approach (both stemming from European Union-funded FIRST and PESCAO programs). in coordinating the efforts of all stakeholders (governments, small-scale fishermen, private actors, women, youth …) from all countries.
There is no shortage of challenges to sustainably distribute this blue wealth. Lack of strategic orientation and poor governance, legislative and regulatory basis, coupled with a lack of transparency and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices, have contributed to the depletion of fishery resources in the region. Coordinated and sustainable management of shared resources (for example, through harmonized rules and policies) applied by competent governmental authorities, in cooperation with non-state actors, will be key.
In this regard, the use of an inclusive and top-down approach to regulate the sector may contribute to an effective solution, but it will not be sufficient. Small-scale fisheries are a recognized driver for sustainable development, and policies and regulations affecting the sector must bring fishermen fully on board to protect and strengthen their livelihoods. The protection of the right of residence and user rights is essential for the sustainable management of small-scale fisheries and the good development of aquaculture.
The fish resources are being exploited at their maximum levels, and the protection of the resources and the fishermen may not be enough for fisheries and aquaculture to promote rural livelihoods and nutrition. Fish-based agricultural food value chains need to be further developed and modernized. The losses after harvest in the region are unsustainably large due to the lack of infrastructure (eg transport or cooling chains) and access to regional and international markets.
Achieving such modernization – and promoting fish consumption throughout the country
region – will require more investment from public and private actors, while key partners such as the European Union and regional and international development banks will continue to support the sector. In order to inform investment priorities, track progress and guarantee accountability, more data and information systems are needed: technical partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) can make a major contribution in this area.
The newly validated CSFS FAD provides a sound vision and an appropriate and coherent roadmap for ECOWAS member countries and all stakeholders to participate in the protection of this invaluable natural resource and the impartial sharing of its benefits between sectors, countries and communities. . With this framework, the boat is ready for all stakeholders to jump on board and work together for a good (and sustainable) catch in the coming years.
By dr. Amadou Tallis, leader of component 1 of the PESCAO program (ECOWAS) and dr. Sidibé Aboubacar is the policy officer of the EU-FAO FIRST program in the ECOWAS