Rwanda joins global deal to end illegal fishing

Delegates at the ongoing World Trade Organization’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Courtesy

Rwanda has ratified a multilateral agreement to combat illegal and unregulated fishing which threatens biodiversity and fish production in water bodies. The effort, joined by over 70 countries, is led by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO’s Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is the culmination of more than 20 years of negotiations.

Rwanda’s ratification was made during the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) taking place from February 26 to 29, 2024 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“This stands as a significant milestone in ensuring sustainable fish stocks and tackling illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,” stated Minister of Trade and Industry, Jean-Chrysostome Ngabitsinze who officially presented Rwanda’s acceptance of the agreement.

“The agreement is timely because globally, $24 billion is spent on illegal fishing and overfishing that pose a serious threat to biodiversity, sources of fisheries, and livelihoods of fishing communities.

“FAO shows that 35 per cent of fishes could disappear if no measures are taken. Over 12 million African people depend on fishing. Africa loses $2.3 billion annually due to unregulated fishing while 30 per cent of fish stocks are destroyed,” Ngabitsinze explained.

Inside the agreement

The historic step towards ensuring the ocean’s sustainability will tackle one of the key drivers of overfishing by curtailing harmful subsidies—payments made by nations to commercial fishing operators to keep those businesses profitable.

The deal prohibits giving subsidies that enable illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, fishing of overfished stocks, or fishing of unmanaged stocks on the high seas.

ALSO READ: Why sardine production in Lake Kivu has drastically decreased

According to the global agreement, Article 3, “no member shall grant or maintain any support to a vessel or operators engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.”

Article 7 of the agreement states that there will be technical assistance and capacity-building to developing country members, including Least Developed Countries, for implementation of the disciplines under this agreement.

In support of this assistance, it states, a voluntary WTO funding mechanism shall be established in cooperation with relevant international organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

“The contributions of WTO members to the mechanism shall be exclusively on a voluntary basis and shall not utilize regular budget resources.”

Each member shall have laws, regulations, and administrative procedures in place to help eliminate unregulated fishing.

ALSO READ: Illicit fishing threatens biodiversity in Lake Kivu

“No member shall maintain subsidies for fishing or fishing-related activities regarding an overfished stock.” An overfished stock is a population of fish that is too low.

“Rwanda benefits from the agreement because we also import fish and sources of these, such as seas, need protection. In Rwanda, people using boats have been doing illegal fishing. Our laws do not also accept this. We also do not want to import illegally harvested fish,” Ngabitsinze added.

Status on illegal fishing in Rwanda

Over 30,000 illegal fishing nets and about 3,000 boats have been confiscated in Lake Kivu over the past three years in the districts of Rubavu, Rutsiro, Karongi, Nyamasheke, and Rusizi.

According to Rwanda Agricultural and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), 13,449 illegal fishing nets known as ‘kaningini’ and 1,821 mosquito nets, 1,252 boats, and 232 poachers were confiscated in 2021/22 alone, while 5,667 kaningini illegal fishing nets and 857 super nets were confiscated in 2020/21 in the five districts. In 2019/2020, the report shows that 8,934 kaningini illegal fishing nets and 2,022 super nets, as well as 1,344 boats, were confiscated.

Total fish produced from Lake Kivu amounts to 70 per cent of total fish production in Rwanda. Fish production in Rwanda slightly increased from 41,664 tonnes in 2021 to 43,560 tonnes in 2022, according to a report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.

Fishing activities are carried out in 17 lakes and four rivers in 15 districts.

According to the report, lake surveillance was increased to control illegal fishers and guide fishing cooperatives to boost Rwandan captured fish production. In 2022, over 11,000 illegal fishing nets were reported.

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