The recent interim agreement on the issuance of licences for fishing Tuna and Tuna-like Species between the Federal government of Somalia and the Federal Member States is reported to be floundering. It has been reported that the Federal government has pulled the plug on a meeting scheduled to finalise the agreement in Seychelles. The recrimination and finger-pointing of the fallout to reach a final agreement is circulating in Somali official centres of power, especially Mogadishu and Garowe. Puntland Mirror takes a closer look at the agreement, the stakes and the sticking points.
The interim agreement
The interim agreement provides a brief outline of the process of applying and issuing the Tuna and Tuna-like Species fishing licences. It sets up a National Offshore Licencing Committee comprising of Fishery Ministers of the Federal government and Federal Member States. It divides the Somali Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) into two parts; from 50nm to 200nm for foreign fishing under the Federal government and 50nm fishing zone under the Federal Member States. The agreement includes the creation of a single revenue collection account in Somali Central Bank and a database for monitoring the licences and revenues.
The agreement recognised the lack of a Federal Fishing law and authority. It provided a basic foundation for the Federal government and Federal Member States to work together in the spirit of the New Somali Federalism based on consultation, compromise and collaboration. This is a complete departure from the old heavy-handedness, defiance and unilateral decision making of the central government. It strengthened the critical position of Federal Member States, their consent and cooperation to move the tasks of state building forward.
Despite the compromises between the Federal government and Federal Member States to agree on something, the agreement lays bare the deep-rooted, prevailing lack of trust between the central government and the States. The distrust is reflected in a number of clauses in the agreement including the one requiring the unanimous approval by all the Committee members to issue a licence.
The agreement was shoddily and haphazardly drafted and, with all its good intent, is seen by many experts as an unsophisticated and amateurish with an insidious side. Mr Mohamed Farah, a maritime expert based in Garowe painted the agreement as an unscrupulous ploy designed to grant hundreds of licences to shady foreign vessels in order to raise funds. He said, “The agreement does not cover anything other than Tuna and Tuna-like Species. It does not form the basis for the highly significant tasks of regulating fishery, protection and preservation, inspection and coast guarding. It even deferred the thorny issue of revenue sharing between the Federal government and Federal Member States to a later unknown date.”
The Federal government and Federal Member States should discuss and unite their efforts to build an integrated, inclusive and effective coastguard to protect our seas from illegal fishing and chemical dumping. They should encourage the establishment of Somali owned fishing companies and cooperatives and advocate securing international markets for our fishing products.
Another weakness of the process is manifested in the two page long application form which cannot capture all the requirements and necessary information to examine the eligibility and the suitability of the applicants such as fishing company size and financial position, proof of banking and certification of ethical Tuna fishing. The agreement does not require foreign vessels first to register with Somali Fishing Vessels Registry, to be inspected and certified. Mr Farah added mockingly that “the two days timeframe to either approve or reject an application by Federal Member States is very unrealistically short and does not give the authorities in the regions time to study the application and raise queries.”
Mr Farah said, “What worries me the most is the size of the licencing zone of between 50nm and 200nm. I would suggest the 50nm Federal Member States zone to be extended to 75nm or 100nm. 75nm zone will provide protection buffer zone for valuable diminishing coastal marine species such as shallow water lobster, shark and other species and will also allow local Somali artisanal fishing industry to thrive.”
Another peculiarity in the agreement relates to the composition of the National Offshore Fishing Licencing committee. The committee is made of the Ministers of Fisheries of the Federal government and Federal Member States. Mr Farah commented, “It is very bizarre to establish a committee composed of Ministers scattered in the regions to just process and issue licences. This is a technical activity that requires the presence and contribution of members in the examination of the applications.” It is a valid criticism that is echoed by many other people. Mr Farah proposes a technical committee comprised of maritime experts from the Federal government and Federal Member States based in and operating in the same location preferably in Bosaso seaport. Once the committee receives and studies a licence application, they will obliged to present their recommendation to the Federal government and Federal Member States for approval and then a licence could be issued.
Mr Farah believes that having the Committee based in Bosaso seaport has many advantages. Bosaso is a bustling fishing city, has advanced communication and maritime transportation technology and while it is on the Gulf of Aden, at the same time it is close to Ras Assayr and the Indian Ocean. Bosaso is also the base of the most advanced Somali Maritime Police force, which will undoubtedly form the basis of future Somali National Maritime Security Force.
The Stakes: Domestic and Foreign Fishing Vessel Licencing model
The present model pursued by the Federal government on Fishing Vessel Licencing is seen by the experts as one reminiscent of the workings of the centralised authoritarian government. A Federal model, which will permit the Federal Member States to process and issue Fishing Vessel licences, is regarded to be more suitable to Federal Somalia. A befitting example is the Canadian model where each province is authorised to grant fishing licences. Another example is the United Kingdom (UK), where the devolved governments such as the Scottish government has a fishing vessel licencing powers. This model grants the Federal Member States the power to control, manage, protect and preserve maritime resources in their boundaries and will simplify the revenue sharing between the Federal government and the Federal Member States. It is also likely to remove the distrust and the competition between the Federal government and Federal Member States.
The Most Sticking Point: Revenue Sharing Scheme and Absence of Somaliland
Revenue sharing is the thorniest stumbling block not only to a comprehensive fishery agreement among Somali authorities but reaching agreement on a whole host of other national resources. The disagreement is divided into two parts; a disagreement on the cumulative share of the Federal government and Federal Members States and a bickering among the Federal Member States for their individual shares. Puntland government proposed an equitable revenue sharing formula where each Federal Member State will receive a share comparable to the size of its coastline share. Mr Farah said, “It was really wrong to forge an agreement to licence foreign fishing vessels without first clearly set licencing fees and without an agreed revenue sharing scheme.”
It was reported that Puntland asked for a bigger share of the revenue since one third of the Somali coastline lies within its boundaries. Mr Farah believes that Puntland should not be criticised of demanding a bigger share of the revenue. He points out that, according to FAO, almost half of the yearly fishery of 19, 546 tonnes in 1987 – the last recorded year – was in areas now administered by Puntland government.
Somaliland is not part of this agreement. The agreement applies to the whole Somali Exclusive Economic Zone including the areas under Somaliland administration. There is a strong need to clarify this point and also to spreadhead the delineation of the coastal boundaries of Federal Member States.
An agreement on issuance of licences without trust among Somali authorities and without an agreement on how to manage and share the revenues is similar to putting the cart before the horse.