Over-fishing and illegal fishing have become a major concern in coastal and offshore areas of Gabon in recent years. Additionally, fisheries present a substantial risk to high priority species such as marine turtles, cetaceans and sharks and rays due to by-catch. A strategic review of the conservation priorities for the WCS Gabon marine program and its primary government, Gabon Bleu, has identified fisheries reform as the single most important activity for improving the conservation prospects of the marine megafauna that we also work on.
WCS has worked with the government marine conservation initiative, Gabon Bleu, to reform the fisheries with the aim of improving management and oversight, reducing illegal fishing and improving the sustainability of the fisheries sector. Substantial improvements in fisheries have been achieved since WCS began working with the Gabon government’s Fisheries Department to support restructuring of fisheries management. A priority activity has been a review of the permitting for artisanal fisheries around Libreville. Artisanal fishing boats number in their thousands in Gabon’s coastal waters. The great majority (probably over 95%) of artisanal fishers in Gabon are from other countries in the region, such as Nigeria, Benin and Ghana. We have assisted the Fisheries Department to completely reorganise permitting to ensure that only those fishing boats that conform to requirements such as fishing with legal gear and holding legal immigration papers can obtain permits. This has greatly motivated artisanal fishers to respect the law and reduced illegal activity. The government of Gabon, with further support from WCS, is now planning to expand this permitting review across the country.
Reforming industrial fisheries requires improved oversight of each boat. There are currently just over 50 industrial fishing boats operating legally in Gabon which primarily target prawns and shrimp, sardines, tuna and a range of demersal fish species. WCS is training fisheries observers to ensure that the activity, gear and catch of each fishing boat is legal. Currently, there are five trained observers and a further 25 are being trained which will enable most of the industrial boats to be adequately monitored. There is an additional opportunity for successful fisheries observers to receive further training to become marine mammal observers on seismic survey vessels for offshore oil & gas exploration.
A priority for overall reform of fisheries is to develop spatial planning and management for each fishery. WCS has collected information on catches by recording species at landing sites and comparing these against the fishing locations from tags we have placed on boats. This allows us to understand which are the most important areas for different fish species and if particularly sensitive species may be at risk from over-exploitation. Using these data we can prepare management plans which describe what can be fished, how, when and where. It also enabled us to develop marine spatial planning for the whole of Gabon’s Exclusive Economic Zone, including defining no-take zones and exclusion zones around oil & gas infrastructure.