Fisheries Co-Management: a Promise of Hope for Somalia’s Economy

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Over the past two decades, Somalia has faced recurring famines due to drought, civil war, import dependence, and patterns of exclusion. Moreover, climate change has further exacerbated some of these issues leading to food crises.[1]

Due to the fish-rich waters surrounding Somalia, the prospect of the fisheries sector supporting the livelihood of Somalis has caught the attention of investors and the international donor community.[2] However, the fishing industry only contributes 1 to 2% of Somalia’s GDP, despite international efforts to strengthen the sector, due to its inability to reach global markets.[3]

The international interventions aimed at tackling food security have focussed on addressing the deficiencies of the fisheries sector  to alleviate hunger through fish consumption and income generation. Nevertheless, the focus is usually on small initiatives, while overlooking one of the root causes of this problem, which is poor governance.[4] Like many countries worldwide, in Somalia, access to food is strongly influenced by political and economic processes that determine its distribution amongst all citizens.[5]

Co-management is a valuable strategy to address challenges related to fisheries, especially for governments with low institutional capacity that are interested in supporting their economies through fishing. This approach was mentioned in the Somali Fisheries Conference held in 2019 in Garowe, Puntland.[6] Hence, this commentary addresses the potential of co-management in improving governance in Somalia’s fisheries sector by reflecting on how international responses can assist this process.

Spotlighting the Fisheries Sector

Many international interventions (such as the fishery rehabilitation interventions by FAO, EU and USAID) in Somalia’s fishing industry focus on local initiatives utilising modern tools to increase fisheries’ production levels.[7] These activities include improving fleets, registering national vessels, and using cooling elements and fish processing techniques such as drying to reduce waste. They also raise awareness regarding the nutritional benefits of fish consumption.[8] Furthermore, stakeholders are trained to use, design, and implement small-scale fisheries schemes to foster income-generating activities.

While all these efforts are meant to reform the fisheries sector, the lack of access to the international market and other facilities enabling exports is a factor of poor governance, a core issues affecting the Somali economy. For example, due to weak governance electricity provision in Somalia is frequently monopolised in Somali cities, resulting in high costs. The electricity costs in Somalia are amongst the highest in the world with approximately $0.5 per kWh.[9] This means that more expenses are incurred from cooling fish for export purposes. These issues have impacted the sector’s potential to grow. Hence, resolving them is key to gaining access to the global market and achieving self-sufficiency.

Fisheries Governance

The Federal Government of Somalia’s (FGS) decision in 2018 to grant fishing licenses to Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) such as China has demonstrated further issues related to weak governance, preventing the establishment of a sustainable fishing market that benefits the Somali economy.[10]The Somali fisheries sector has been experiencing the tragedy of the commons, where state actors sell fishing licenses for personal gain without thinking of the long-term consequences on citizens.[11] As such, interventions linked to reforming the fisheries sector in Somalia implemented at the state level miss impact at the local level.

With state or private sector actors’ control, the centralisation of natural resources has not provided Somalia with workable solutions. However, co-management arrangements exist to prevent the abovementioned tragedy. Fisheries co-management is defined as “a relationship between a resource user (e.g. local fishers) and other entity (e.g. government agency or non-governmental organization) in which management responsibilities and authority are shared.[12] According to Ostrom, successful governance is achieved by designing rules that are determined by a careful understanding of the different interests in a particular context.[13]

In the Somali context, governance related to fisheries issues did not support the development of a robust domestic industry. This could have been achieved by managing the inputs required for export, such as the supply of electricity and affordable permits and licenses that can make Somali products competitive enough to gain access to the global market. Local clans have traditionally managed common pool resources and relative disputes, around common pool resources, but are not strongly involved in development efforts to improve governance of the sector. Instead, the federal and local government are given the role to manage the resources and receive funding to do so (which they have failed to distribute).[14]However, all parties are vital for the sustainable development of the sector and need to collaborate more efficiently, such as actors providing licenses and controlling the operations at a central level as well as local level, and those engaged in fishing, processing, and transporting activities.

Developing Fisheries through Co-management

During the Somali Fisheries Conference of 2019, attendees mentioned the need for co-management to rehabilitate the Somali fisheries sector, which requires a decentralised participatory approach. Co-management mainly focuses on actors affected by fishing, regardless of whether they are primary or secondary stakeholders. The primary stakeholders are the ones who are directly impacted, such as fishers, traders, and processors. The secondary stakeholders are those who are interested in the sector but do not rely on the industry, such as national, local, and regional governments, clan leaders, non-governmental organizations and other foreign actors, the private sector, and scientists.[15]

Co-management comes in several forms, ranging from a minimal exchange between the government and the fishers, to a more bottom-up approach allowing the fishery cooperatives to inform the governments of their decisions. Co-management, if tailored to the Somali context, could be a potential solution to overcome poor governance. Bottom-up co-management actively involves all kinds of stakeholders, which ultimately reduces corruption and increases the focus on the common good. The international responses to the fisheries sector could assist the existing fishery cooperatives by providing expertise and financial means to form proper structures to build a functioning domestic market.[16] While co-management was mentioned in the conference as a solution, its implementation has not been discussed thoroughly. An assessment of the pilot co-management initiatives’ outcomes in Puntland (Eyl), Barawe, and Kismayo can help direct future responses to support the fisheries sector of Somalia.[17]

A Lesson for Foreign Responses

Strengthening the fisheries sector in Somalia needs solutions that can improve the governance of the fisheries sector and leverage the economic opportunities produced by it. International responses to the industry have mainly focused on efforts that can help stimulate the fishery production capacity, but do not improve the governance structures that prohibit the sector from developing. 

Structural governance issues, such as the inability to effectively address broader stakeholder interests through policy, must be rectified. Such problems hinder the development of the fishing industry from becoming a growing industry that can supply many stakeholders with a decent livelihood. Hence, interventions in Somalia that are focused on strengthening co-management efforts to support local stakeholders in taking ownership of their resources can be seen as a potential solution to overcome poor governance. This solution can potentially reform the fishery sector in a sustainable way, increasing the standard of living for many Somali citizens struggling with food crises. 

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[1] Yaw Tchie, Andrew E. 2021. ‘How Climate Insecurity Could Trigger More Conflict in Somalia’, The Conversation, 12 April,   (accessed 9 December 2021).
[2] Glaser, S. et al. 2019. ‘Foreign Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing in Somali Waters Perpetuates Conflict,’, Frontiers in Marine Science 6, p.704.
[3] Interview with Head of Research and Coastal Development Somalia, November 2021.
[4] Ibid.
[5] S. Jaspars, S. et al. 2020. ‘Food and Power in Somalia: Business as Usual? A Scoping Study on the Political Economy of Food Following Shifts in Food Assistance and in Governance,’ The London School of Econmics and Politcal Science.
[6] P. M. Roberts. 2019. ‘The Potential for Fisheries Co-management in the Somali Region,’ Secure Fisheries.
[7] FAO. 2021. ‘EU and FAO handover a new Water and Land Information Management Centre to Government of Somalia in Putland’. ( ( accessed 9 December 2021);FAO. 2016. ‘fisheries sector support programme in somalia’,/;‘Ice Machine Make export possible Again for Somali Fishermen’ (Accessed 9 December 2021); USAID. 2016. (accessed 9 December 2021).; There are more initiative but the ones mentioned are one of the most recent examples.
[8] USAID. 2021. ‘Somalia: Energy Sector Overview,’ ( . (accessed 9 December 2021).
[9] Lighting Africa.2021. ‘Somalia Energy for Prosperity,’ (accessed 4 January 2022).
[12] Pomeroy, R and Berkes .F. 1997. Two to tago: the role of government in fisheries co-management. Mar. Policy (21), p.465-480.
[13] Ostrom.E. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[14] Powell, B. 2008. ‘Somalia After State Collapse: Chaos or Improvement?,’ Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organization 67 (3-4), p. 657-70.
[15] P. M. Roberts. 2019. ‘The Potential for Fisheries Co-management in the Somali Region,’ Secure Fisheries.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Interview with former Director of the Fisheries at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Somalia, November 2021.