By Arimando Domingos in Maputo
A "rapid and catastrophic" fall in marine life off
Mozambique has led to warnings from some of Africa's leading biologists
that a number of species could be "lost within a generation".
According to the US-based Marine Megafauna Foundation, sightings of
manta rays in the Mozambique Channel have fallen almost 90 per cent.
Their cousin, the devil ray, has been all-but wiped out.
Between them, Madagascar and Mozambique have licensed hundreds of Asian
and European Union (EU) boats to fish the waters, while buyers drive the
coastal roads, offering cash for shark fins — a delicacy in China — and
bones from manta rays. As with rhino horn, gill cartilage from mantas is
used in Asian medicine.
Activists say locals venture from the beach with nets, catching fish but
also rays, sharks and the rare dugong, a mammal that gave rise to the
myth of mermaids.
In Mombasa, Kenyan marine biologist, Dr. Melita Samoilys, is a director
of Cordio, a research NGO for the western reach of the Indian Ocean.
She was lead author of a recent paper on Mozambique and its fish, and
said little would change while the country suffered "high levels of
poverty and illiteracy in coastal communities".
She said there was a need for patrols at sea and on land, "but too often
coastal fishers are blamed when, really, they have little alternative."
She said poverty lay at the heart of the problem.
"At the same time the decision to allow foreign fishing fleets offshore
was largely financial and made with no consultation with coastal
communities. And these catches are rarely monitored, so they fish with
Dr. Samoilys said the world was shifting attention to the oceans, "but
action on the ground is slow".
At the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) office in Cape Town, Craig Smith said
the Mozambique Channel was one of the "most bio-diverse hot spots on the
Smith, who works on WWF projects for the western Indian Ocean, called
for "urgent, collective and decisive intervention," across the region,
including South Africa. He said climate change was compounding the
In Durban, Dr. Jean Harris — director of the NGO Wild Oceans— called
for an immediate review of "foreign fleet agreements".
"We have EU and Asian vessels in African waters, some licensed and
"We need an audit of how this is impacting our stocks, especially where
unselective methods like long-line fishing and net trawling are used."
She said some of the European ships received subsidies from the EU, and
"are here because they have already fished out their own waters".
$60m loss for Mozambique
It is estimated that Mozambique loses $60m a year in illegal fishing.
But when the country set out to buy its own trawlers, and patrol craft
to intercept poachers, the deal was marred by allegations of corruption.
A case brought by the US Justice Department is currently underway in New
Vic Cockcroft is a Zimbabwean researcher who has worked on dugongs along
the coast of East Africa where he says numbers have fallen 99 per cent
since 1960, though Mozambique still has a viable population.
These plant-eating mammals get caught accidentally in nets or are hunted
for meat despite legal protection.
"There is a critical need to police and monitor places like the
Channel," Cockcroft said.
"The problem is, fish and marine creatures don't respect borders. They
swim where they wish and, when stocks are being hit in one area, some of
the casualties will be temporary migrants who don't make it home. That
is true of Mozambique, where poaching has impacted on both South Africa
In Mombasa, Dr. Samoilys said marine animals deserved the same
protection as those on land.
Control of waterways
"In many ways, East Africa spawned the modern concern over poaching,"
she said. "It was the ivory trade out of Mombasa that made headlines in
the 1970s, and our national parks like the Serengeti and Masai Mara are
now household names.
"Sadly the crisis off our coast gets nowhere near that level of
publicity. Kenya and South Africa have relatively good control of their
waters, but the situation is much more difficult in places like
"The oceans around Africa need to become a global cause," he said.
"That's what happened with threatened species like tiger, cheetah and
gorillas. But, we have very little time."
- CAJ News