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East African Fish in Need of Recovery – WCS

The east African marine fishery production, estimated at 1.4-4.9 tonnes per km super (2), is principally a result of artisanal fishing. The East African coral reef study has disclosed an unfolding disaster for the region- plummeting fish populations due to overfishing, which in turn could produce widespread food insecurity.

A school of powder blue tang in coral reefs off East Africa. CREDIT: T. McClanahan

A World Conservation Society senior conservation zoologist, Dr. Tim McClanahan, noted that overfishing is widespread across the region in a newly published paper in the journal MarineEcology Progress Series titled “Coral reef fish communities, diversity, and their fisheries and biodiversity status in East Africa.”

The remedy, says the sole author of the study, is to
recognize the need to rebuild fish stocks to ensure they are providing the maximum possible catch for the developing countries of Kenya, Tanzania, and
Mozambique. The African continent has among the
highest human population growth rates and associated food security issues.

“Whereas fish stocks within marine parks and areas in distant or turbulent locations were found to be at healthy levels, coastal areas open to fishing were another story,” said McClanahan. “We have found
that fish catches have been declining in Africa in recent years by a million tons a year, and this study shows that much of this decline in East Africa is due to declining fish stocks.”

The sample of 239 sites-data gathered over several years-the study and previous estimates
show that 70 percent of the reefs have fish stocks below the levels that will produce the maximum fisheries yields. The few areas above this level were in marine parks, rural areas, and remote or dangerous seas.

The study further disclose that low stocks not only affects food production but also the diversity of fish and reef ecology. Numbers of fish species decline rapidly when stocks decline below sustainable
levels. This loss of species will have consequences for the long-term recovery and the potential to produce food.

In light of the central finding that fish stocks in East
Africa are severely depleted to unsustainable levels, the study suggests that rebuilding fish biomass is the key management action needed for long-term
sustainability of the fisheries. Stricter fisheries management and enforcement alongside expanding spatially diverse fishing restrictions are essential to rebuilding stocks, maintaining species diversity, recovering fisheries and ensuring long-term ecosystem services for the East African coast, the report stated.

The study follows on recent fisheries research that shows where fisheries science is active and evaluating reefs, stocks are rebuilding. The fisheries division of the FAO in Rome recently evaluated their
needs in the coming decades and concluded that knowing the stock levels of countries without good fisheries science is undermining efforts to achieve
global fisheries sustainability.


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