At present, about 50 percent of the animal protein supply in The Gambia comes from fish. With a marine coastline of 80 km that is enriched by the nutrients that flow from the Gambia River, the Gambia’s marine waters attract many commercial species which feed and spawn in the area. There is also considerable potential for freshwater fisheries. However, the enormous potential of West Africa’s ‘blue treasure’ – its fisheries and aquaculture resources – is yet to be fully unlocked.
Treasures, however, must be managed wisely. Otherwise, there is a risk that a few reap all the benefits, or that a short-term approach results in the wealth being squandered away. This is why the ECOWAS member states have recently validated a common new roadmap (the Comprehensive Strategic Framework for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, or CSFS FAD) to sustainably develop the sector and make it work for nutrition, welfare and sustainable growth.
Building on a series of diagnostics of the situation and policies of fisheries and aquaculture in each of the member countries, and taking a participatory, inclusive and fair approach (both arising from the European Union-funded FIRST and PESCAO programmes), the new framework aims at coordinating the efforts of all stakeholders (governments, small-scale fisherfolk, private actors, women, youth…) from all countries.
There is no shortage of challenges in sustainably spreading this blue wealth. Missing strategic orientation and weak governance, legislative and regulatory basis, together with a lack of transparency and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices have contributed to fisheries resources depletion in the region. A coordinated and sustainable management of shared resources (e.g. through harmonised rules and policies) applied by skilled government authorities, in collaboration with non-state actors will be key.
In this regard, adopting an inclusive and top-down approach to regulate the sector can contribute to an effective solution, but will not suffice. Small-scale fisheries are a recognised driver of sustainable development, and policies and regulations affecting the sector will need to bring fisher folk fully on board to protect and strengthen their livelihoods. Protecting tenure and user rights are essential for a sustainable management of small‑scale fisheries and a sound development of aquaculture.
The fisheries resources are being exploited at their maximum levels and protecting the resources and the fisherfolk may not be enough for fisheries and aquaculture to boost rural livelihoods and nutrition. Fish-based agrifood value chains need to be further developed and modernised. Post-harvest losses in the region are unsustainably high, due to the lack of infrastructure (e.g. transport or cold chains), and access to regional and international markets.
Achieving such modernisation – and promoting fish consumption throughout the
region – will require more investments from public and private actors alike, while key partners such as the European Union and regional and international development banks 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 like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) can make a major contribution in this field.
The recently-validated CSFS FAD provides a sound vision and a pertinent and coherent roadmap for ECOWAS member countries and all stakeholders to participate in protecting this invaluable natural resource and impartially sharing its benefits across sectors, countries and communities. With this framework, the boat is ready for all stakeholders to jump onboard and work together for a good (and sustainable) catch in the years to come.
By Dr. Amadou Tallis, leader of the Component 1 of PESCAO Programme (ECOWAS) & Dr .Sidibé Aboubacar is the policy officer of the EU-FAO FIRST Programme in the ECOWAS