Maritime and Fisheries Institute

Abdul Aziz District, Mogadishu, Somalia


EMAIL: [email protected]

To be cited as: Musse, G. H. and Tako, M. H. 1999. Illegal Fishing and Dumping Hazardous Wastes Threaten the Development of Somali Fisheries and the Marine Environments. In Tropical Aquaculture and Fisheries" Conference, 99 held on 7th-9th Sept, Park Royal Hotel, Terengganu. Malaysia. (


In 1991, the devastating Somali civil war forced the Somali fisheries to take drastic collapse and closed almost all fisheries activities. Over 2000 people lost their jobs and fisheries communities are still at stake struggling to recover. However, illegal fishing and the more serious nuclear and waste dumping from the industrialized world pose environmental threat. Very sophisticated factory-fishing vessels, which were modeled for distant-water fishing, travel from countries, which are thousands of miles away, whose fisheries resources are either under tight legal protection or were drastically overexploited. They are in search of Dolphin fish, Grouper, Emperors, Tuna sp., Mackerel sp., Snapper, Swordfish, Shark sp. Herring and of course the other valuable Indian Ocean species. Their concern is short-term outlook knowing the ecological limits. Somalia does not only experience political displacement but also resource displacement. This paper attempts to highlight how the West Indian fish stocks are presently being exploited roughly and vigorously by using destructive fishing practices. It also aims to forewarn the alarming situation to not only the regional governments in the region which are well concerned with the well being of the resources and environments but also to all fisheries professionals at an international level.


Key words: Environment, Fisheries resources, Hazardous wastes, Illegal fishing, Recommendation, Species



Somalia geographically lies in the East Africa with population of 9, 639, 541. In the east it is adjacent to Indian Ocean and in the north the Gulf of Aden of Red Sea. The size of the land is estimated 637, 540 km square owning Africa's longest coastline of 3333-km (northern coastline on the Aden from Djibouti to Ras Asir is about 1000 km long and eastern coast extends along the Indian Ocean from Ras Asir to Kenya is about 2333 km). Sovereignty territorial waters, Somalia claims up to 200 nautical miles as Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an area of almost 1,200,000 km2 providing significant potential for offshore fisheries development. The area is so vast, but the resources are limited and need proper exploration, exploitation, conservation and management for sustainable development as shown in Figure 1. The abundance and diverse marine resources include seabirds, whales, whale sharks, and several dolphin and turtle species offer promise for ecotourism. There are variety of coral fringe reefs found in many places in both the northern coastline on Gulf of Aden and the eastern coastline along Indian Ocean. Coral reefs are both important sources of food for human populations and major commercial importance for fisheries and tourism. The continental shelf along both coasts is narrow, usually extending not more that between 6 to 30 km from the shore, except that of Ras Asir to Ras Mabber which are up to 60 km wide. Fish distribution is strongly influenced by environmental factors such as the temperature, salinity, nutrients, upwelling, and the thermocline. Seasonal variations in abundance are considerable with two peaks in the landing i.e. in November and in March with Southwest monsoon landing declines.


Figure 1 : The main fishing areas in Somalia according to the production data gathered so far. This is not an indication that the area is poor in marine resources, however, it does highlight the importance of commercially active trade centers in the vicinity of the fishing grounds for the industry to grow.


Prospects of Somali Fisheries

Previous studies conducted by some European Union member countries, Americans, and some UN Agencies including FAO have estimated at an annual catch of 300,000 tones of fish and 10,000 tones of crustaceans. The estimated actual annual catches at the present are about 2000 tonnes, 450 tonnes of Lobster, 100 tonnes of shark and 20 tonnes of shrimp. The market for all fish is consumed locally except that of shrimp and lobster, which are exported to united Arab Emirate (UAE).

The catches are normally dominated by large pelagic fish species and their composition principally include Albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga), Bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), Bonito (Sarda orientalis), Frigate tuna (Auxis rochai), Kawakawa (Euthynnus affinis), Longtail tuna (Thunnus tonggol), Skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), Swordfish (Xiphias gladius),Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) and Spanish mackerel (Scomberonorus commerson). The dominant catches also include the small pelagic fish species namely the Indian oil sardine (Sardinella longiceps), Rainbow sardine (Dussumieria accuta), Scads (Decapterus russelli, D. macrosoma), Markerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta and Transchurus indicus) and Anchovies (Engraulis japonicus and Scolephorus indicus). Also the catches include the main demersal species namely the Emperors (Lethrinidae), Groupers (Serranidae), Snappers (Lutjanidae), Grunts (Pomadasydea) and Threadfin breams (Nemipteridae), Lizardfishes (Synodotidae) and Goat fishes (Mullidae). Sharks are very important contributing some 40 percent of the artisan catch.

Shallow-water lobsters of the genus Panulirus (P. ornatus, P. versicolor, P. Penicillatus and P. japonicus) occur in the near-shore water along the entire coast of Somalia. They are heavily exploited in the southern part of the country, probably in connection with the presence of the cold storage available in the middle provinces as far to Kismayo. They are occasionally caught mainly by Gillnets throughout the year except during the monsoon period.

Similarly shallow-water shrimps are abundantly found specifically in the entrance of the Jubba River and Bircao estuary. Among the common species are Penaeus indicus, P. monodon, P. semisulcatus, Metapenacas monoceros and M. stebbingi.

Catches of deep-water lobster principally include two species: Puerulus sewelli and Puerulus carinatus. The former is reported to occur on the fishing grounds north of the latitude 7 N and the later in south 10 N. The Andaman lobster (Metanephrops andamanicus) are also captured in small quantities in greater than 300 m depth off the northeast coast. The deep-water shrimp (Heterocarpus spp.) is an important catch in some areas. Small quantities of sand lobster (Thenus orientalis) are captured by the industrial fleet in depths up to 100m. Table 1 is briefed the most commercial marine species exploited in Somali coastal waters.


Table 1: The major commercial marine species, crustaceans & other species exploited in Somali coastal waters.

English Name

Scientific Name


Sphyraena spp.



Rachycentron canadu



Otolithes ruber


Dolphin Fish

Coryphaena spp.



Lethrinus spp.


Frigate Mackerel

Euthynnus affinis



Upeneus spp.



Epinephelus spp.


Hammer Shark

Sphyna zygaena



Liza spp. Valamugil spp.



Numerous species



Istiophorus platypterus



Sardinella spp.


Saw Shark

Pristis pectinata


Skipjack Tuna

Katsuwonus pelamis



Lutjnus spp.


Spanish Mackerel

Scomberomorus commerson



Siganus spp



Xiphias gladius


Tiger Shark

Galeocerdo cuvieri



Carangoides spp.


Wolf Herring

Chirocentrus spp.



Bodianus binulatus


Yellowfin Tuna

Thunnus albacares



Marine Crustaceans Species

Spiny Lobster

Panulirus spp.



Penaeus spp.



Other Species


Sepia spp.



Loligo spp.



Octopodidae spp.



The Illegal Fishing Issue

Somalia's coastal communities who eke marine resources are appealing to international community for help to keep foreign ships, which engage in illegal fishing out of their country's territorial waters. This is a critical time for the world at large in particular international organisations to integrate Somali people with their environment and safeguard their natural resources. The illegal fishing along the Somali coastline heightened after the disintegration of the Horn of African country into clan-based states following the overthrow of communist dictator Siad Barre almost a decade ago.

Taking advantage of a lack of patrolling securities, the foreign ships use prohibited fishing methods like drift nets, dynamites, breaking coral reefs and destroying the coral habitats where lobsters and other coral fish live. According to Somali Fisheries Society and Somalia Marine Resource Management, which monitor the country's marine environment, the illegally fishing vessels stay away into deeper waters during the days but come closer to the shore at night. They apply their destructive fishing techniques, which reduce the local population's harvest and damage nets and traps set by local fishermen. On several occasions, there have been reports of large amount of fish floating near the shore. Similarly, the Ocean Training and Promotion (OTP) has collected information that more than 200 foreign vessels have since 1991, been engaged in illegal fishing in the Somali coastline.

Some of these fishing vessel come to exploit from the developed and developing countries, which were thousands of miles away in particular those whose fisheries resources were drastically overexploited or are under reservation. Some of them use very sophisticated factory-fishing vessels, which are modeled for distant-water fishing. Their concern is short-term outlook and refusal to acknowledge ecological limits is devastating. Somalia does not only experience political displacement but also resource displacement.

The distant-water fishing vessels include those sailing under flags of conveniences such as China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Honduras, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Pakistan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Soviet Federation, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Yemen had allegedly fished within 12 miles Somali waters. These vessels are in search of Dolphin fish, Grouper, Emperors, Tuna sp., Mackerel sp., Snapper, Swordfish, Shark sp. Herring and of course, other valuable in Somali coastal water species. Fig. 2 shows Yemani stern trawler un- fishing illegally within 5nm in Somali waters (Photo courtesy Coffin Strout).

 Fig. 2 shows Yemani stern trawler illegally within 5nm in Somali waters (Photo courtesy Coffin Strout).

Some of these vessels are equipped with large purse seiners while others set and haul their colossal nets from the stern, quickly processing and deep-freezing nearly all the fish they catch, working around the clock in all even the worst weather conditions. Their trawl nets were constructed as huge "draggers". The draggers haul enormous, baglike nets, as long as a football field, hold open by a combination of huge steel plates or "doors" and heavy chains and rollers that plow and scrape the ocean bottom. They drag up whole schools of fish and anything else in the way, inflicting immense damage to immature target and non-target fish and the benthic (bottom-dwelling) community. They are not only destroying critical habitat, but they also contribute to destabilizing the ecosystem of the food chain. The draggers target huge aggregations of fish when they are spawning, a time when the fish population is highly vulnerable to capture and to the physical impacts of the bottom-trawling gear on the environment. Detractors of the technology claim that the excessive trawling on spawning stocks become highly disruptive to the spawning process, negatively impacting the reproductive behavior of the fish. In addition, the trawling activity is thought to result in a physical dispersion of eggs and milt leading to a higher fertilization failure. Physical and chemical damage to larvae cause by the trawling action may also reduce their chances of survival.

The effect of selective fishing on spawning grounds - that is, selectively over-exploiting certain species in an ecosystem can have disastrous effect on the feeding relationships in that ecosystem. This contributes to the overall reduction of spawning stock biomass of non-target species. In addition, an increase in the number of invertebrate and vertebrate predators such as crustacean and fish, which will prey on all other vulnerable species eggs, larvae, and younger fish. It is no wonder that commercially important species, would eventually run into difficulties struggling to survive when its habitat is being continuously destroyed and the balance of their food chain has been disrupted. The destruction is not only confined to illegal fishing, last few years it has become common practice that thousands of tonnes and other marine animals are washed to the shore dead. A number of local and international scientists have studied the tragedy but the cause is yet to be discovered. These unfortunate occurrences are the consequence of harboring the most dangerous hazardous nuclear and chemical waste by the most industrialized world.

The Hazardous Waste Imports Issue
Somalia's coastline was very rich and able to support varieties or aquatic organisms. However due to non-policing of Somali waters, many foreign vessels indiscriminately pollute by dumping hazardous waste in her waters. The number of incidents, which were identified as perpetrators include an Italian firm (Progresso) and Swiss firm (Achair Partners) even though there may be many other numerous unidentified cases. These cases were justified by United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) as if the firms have supposedly entered into contracts with Somali government to dump in Somali waters. This is ethically questionable whether an indigene should negotiate a hazardous waste disposal contract within his country even in the midst of instability. This can be classified, as a misleading justification to divert the attention of the less publicized exploitation of the Somali crisis by the firms, which specialize in the disposal of hazardous waste. As a result of the UNEP's investigation, about the issue it became apparent to the UNEP's director Dr. Mustafa Tolba declared that the firms of Achair Partners and Progresso were set up specifically as fictitious companies by larger industrial firms to dispose of hazardous waste. And at that point Dr. Tolba referred that the UNEP was dealing with a mafia. Since there is no unified effective internationally recognized government, suing such matters are not intact. The companies are extremely well off to hide the truth at any cost. These are violations of international treaties in the export of hazardous waste to another country in particular like Somalia.
Every month proportionately a number of indigenous people die or suffer from the effects of such dumping around coastal communities. For instance, at Eel-dher district of Gal-gadud region, in the center of Somalia in April 1992 put out dark blue long barrels in which oily-liquid was filled. When samples taken from them were investigated, it was identified that such were deadly nuclear waste. Similar incidents happened at Adale district in 1996. In 1998, mass mix fish species were washed away along the coastline from Mogadishu to Warsheekh which are 45 km apart and all these are consequences of the hazardous waste imports into Somali waters. All over the world, countries policies deal with these events however it is unfortunate that Somalia with the longest coastline over all Africa does not have a basic strategy to deal with these matters.




Fisheries rights within 200 nautical miles assigned to individual countries or shared between adjacent countries' rational management have been implicated. At least in Europe, US, Canada and most Asian countries, there are effective control unlike west Indian ocean and in particular Somali waters whereas jointly are harvested as it has been traditionally identified on of the world's richest fisheries ground. Somalia's natural resources are under considerable stress, political and economic preoccupations mean that there is no administrative machinery for sustainable management of these resources. The resources and its management continually baffle Somali fisheries professionals and the use of technological information methods in particular the application of satellite transponders and cameras to monitor the operations of the vessels in territorial waters is beyond imagination. It is hard to say that at the present, we have no management prescription for the problems and we can not keep quiet from such disheartening situations. Therefore, we are to alert internationally of the problem, which can confront in the Indian Ocean pointing that, the apparent serious environmental degradation, which perhaps irreversible in reality. In Somalia, individually and collectively, people are responding to their changing environment through development of appropriate mechanisms and legislation focusing on environmental protection and biodiversity, which are in turn linked to sustainable resource management.

Let's conclude by pointing out the importance of fisheries management and rights to respect ownership of territorial waters. The challenges of the new millennium on fisheries and its environment do not pose threat to an individual country but for all and its solution would be for all. The main policy trust of professionals is to promote greater awareness among the people and make heard the problems being faced. At same point of view, it is directed towards understanding the responsibility and the obligations for protection of marine resources and environment under for respective jurisdictions.



The authors would like to express their appreciation to Mr. Ahmed Jalal Khan Chowdhury who was instrumental the outcome of this paper. Also, we would like to acknowledge Mr. Olubunmi Akinfolajimi and Mr. Shahreza Mohd. Shariff for their contribution improving this manuscript.


Literatures cited

Anon 1989. The Annual Report of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Somalia.

Dubad, Omar Haji Ahmed. 1990. Status of Tuna in Somalia. Collective Volume of Working Documents Vol. 4. Presented at the expert Consultation on Stock Assessment of Tunas in the Indian Ocean Held in Bangkok, Thailand, 2-6 July 1990.

Mohamed, A.1998. Summary of Fisheries and Resource Information for Somalia.

Musse G. H. 1998. Background Information and Future Business Opportunities on Somali Fishing Industry. (Unpublished).

Musse G. H. and Tako, M. H. 1999. Current status of marine fisheries in Somalia. In Assessment & Monitoring of Marine System. S. Lokman, M.S.N. Azhar, M.S. Nasir & M.A. Borowitzka (eds.), Universiti Putra Malaysia Terengganu, Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia (p 255 - 264).

UNEP Official Urges African Nations to Approve Basel Accord on Waste. International Environment Reporter (BNA, October 7, 1992).


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