Not so long ago, the coast of Somalia was plagued by pirates.
At the peak of the problem, in 2011, there were 237 incidents of piracy off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden (the sea separating Somalia and Yemen), accounting for more than half of all such incidents worldwide. The pirates would often hold shipping crews hostage for ransom. Somali piracy cost an estimated $6.6 billion in 2011 in international naval activities, maritime security, insurance and other costs.
A couple of years earlier, a group of Danish businessmen and journalists decided they might be able to help. They founded an NGO called FairFishing to “turn Somali pirates into fishermen” and improve lives on the Horn of Africa by building up local businesses and creating jobs in sustainable fishing.
They weren’t alone in seeing the potential of Somalia’s fishing industry. The country has the longest coastline in Africa and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates it has the potential to sustainably catch 200,000 tons of fish per year, over six times more than the most recent catch estimates.
‘Why aren’t they fishermen?’
“The idea was created 10 years ago when there was a lot of piracy out of Africa’s Horn,” said Claus Bindslev, co-founder and chairman of FairFishing. “We were some guys in Denmark talking about why are they pirates? Why aren’t they fishermen?”
Somali fishermen landing fish in the harbour after a three day fishing trip at sea.
The outbreak of civil war in 1991, a tsunami in 2004 and severe droughts led to unemployment, criminal activity and food insecurity around the Horn of Africa, Bindslev explained.
“All the men who had been at sea went to the civil war,” said Bindslev. “Therefore, all the experience and all the know-how about catching fish in the local communities disappeared. So, we have a whole new generation and older people who don’t know anything about fish.”
The UN estimates exports of fishery products earned Somalia $15 million in 1989, but “the civil war arrested the steady growth of this trade.”
The collapse in the rule of law also opened up Somali waters to unregulated fishing from foreign vessels, which many Somali fishermen blamed for reducing their catch and driving them towards piracy.
The FairFishing model
FairFishing operates in two semi-autonomous regions of Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. The first step it takes is to sell ice to fishermen, so that they can keep their fish fresh, says Bindslev.
“Then the price for a fish rises from around 50 cents to $2 from the station and between $4 and $6 from the market because it is cool and clean,” he said.