Getting up early, before the sun and the birds – which I have had to do many times – has never really been my favourite thing. But today we had to be up early or we would miss it…
By: Andrew Fitzgibbon
So off I and a group of colleagues from other WWF offices trooped in a mini-bus for 1.5 hours through the relatively green and lush Island of Zanzibar, until we reached Nungwe, a fishing village that has in recent years become a tourist hot spot on the northern tip of the small island off the coast of Tanzania.
Nungwe village still has a strong fishing community with fishermen often spending the night or even a couple of days and nights at sea, returning at dawn to sell their catch. We had planned to observe the fish auction as the fishermen brought in their catch, but nothing had prepared me for how swiftly the process was undertaken, nor of the value of the fish.
WWF has for several years worked with the governments of Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania to try to encourage and support their engagement in the management of the tuna in the Indian Ocean. While overall the tuna stock in the Indian Ocean is not yet over-fished it is coming under increasing pressure from foreign fleets, and there is a need to improve the management of the stock before the stock goes into decline. WWF hopes to improve the management of the stock and the benefits that accrue to the countries. This is as opposed to the benefits going to the foreign fishing vessels and their foreign owners, with little value remaining locally, which is the current situation in East Africa in a fishery valued globally at between $5-6 billion.
WWF is supporting fisherfolk
For many years, WWF has been supporting fisherfolk to exercise their rights to both manage and benefit from their fishery resources under Tanzania’s Fishery Policy. When it comes to tuna fishing, WWF has started to turn more attention to the artisanal fisherfolk – those
often poor, local fishermen who fish from small boats and rely on the fish and money raised from selling the fish for their livelihoods and survival. From recent research it was obvious that the fishermen actually caught quite a considerable amount of tuna, depending on the time of year, and of course a little bit of luck, and we would like to see how we can support this further.
What caught me totally by surprise was how quickly the fish selling process operated – and the value that the tuna raised. Within seconds of the fish being pulled off the boat and laid on the sand at the shabby, grass thatched structure that was designated the ‘fish market’, the ‘auctioneer’ – appointed by the local community, and given a small fee for each fish sold – had opened the bidding for an approximately 36kg yellowfin tuna, asking 100 000 Tanzania shillings (60 USD). Quickly the price rose to 120K, 150K, and upwards until the bidding concluded in less than 1 minute at 240 000 TSH, or US $140. This for one fish, in a country where the GDP per person is only US $600 a year.
I could not believe that one fish could raise so much money in what is a very poor local economy. Apparently, the main buyers are the local hotels in the north of the Island, so the market is good.
However, all is not good from the fishermen’s perspective, they have noted that over the years the size of the fish they catch is getting smaller, there is less variety in the species they catch and overall they are catching less for the same amount of time spent fishing. The fishermen cited several reasons for this, including complaints about the industrial fishing ships that they claim come too close to shore among other poor practices.
This made me realise that the work WWF does with the governments targeting the large industrial fishing fleets, ensuring they adhere to using the appropriate practices in the right places, without over-fishing, can have an impact for these local fishermen, ensuring that tuna continue to be available. So by working with both parts of the trade we can hopefully make things better for both, so that at least these fishermen can still go fishing for food and money and tuna continue to thrive in the Indian Ocean.
The morning was definitely worth getting up early for!