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Tuna temptation Mozambique’s Museum of Fisheries looks inward (4)

Beira’s port boasts a new fish processing facility with 36-ton daily capacity, an ice factory, and a $120-million soft loan from China for renovations.

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Writer: Mercedes Sayagues

Images: Mercedes Sayagues, José Forjaz

Halfway between Nampula province and Maputo lies the port city of Beira and the 950 km-long Sofala bank, Mozambique’s richest fishing grounds. Most industrial fishing is based here.

Beira’s port boasts a new fish processing facility with 36-ton daily capacity, an ice factory, and a $120-million soft loan from China for renovations.

In spite of its fish wealth, “Mozambique is not a significant player in the world fish market,” says a USAID study, and one reason is lack of capital for private and public investment.

A recent attempt to found a Mozambican tuna-fishing fleet turned sour. In 2013, the government issued

a $850-million bond to buy 26 fishing boats and four patrol vessels in France for the newly-formed EMATUM (Mozambican Tuna Fishing Company), which is 33% owned by the state security services pension fund and by government. The deal bypassed parliament, and was much criticised by donors and the opposition for its lack of transparency and high interest-rates (LIBOR +6.5%), to be repaid within seven years.

Elections were held at the end of 2014. In July this year the new finance minister described the bond as a bad deal. Having ballooned to $980-million and accounting for 13% of the national foreign debt, it had to be renegotiated. Citing EMATUM’s “distressed debt exchange”, credit-rating agency Standard & Poor downgraded Mozambique’s long-term rating from B to B-.

Instead of the trumpeted $200-million annual earnings, EMATUM posted losses of $35-million for 2013-2014. Mozambique doesn’t even have trained crews for this fleet.

Meanwhile, the threat of Somali pirates sharply reduced foreign fishing, legal or illegal, in the Indian Ocean. But that danger receded in 2013, thanks to international patrolling using vessels and drones, and unscrupulous foreign trawlers are back in East Africa –the world’s richest tuna fishing grounds, with shark and swordfish as well.

The 2014 Africa Progress Report: Grain Fish Money, by an expert group chaired by former UN chief Ko Annan, describes how “Africa is losing billions to illegal and shadowy [fishing] practices”. West Africa loses as much as $1.3-billion annually. In Senegal, losses amount to 2% of GDP.

Why? The report lists limited monitoring and tracking capabilities, poor domestic governance, corruption and links between politically IN

connected elites and fishing companies. The “pay, fish, go” system controls the number of vessels but not the volume of catches. One large trawler catches 250 tons of fish in a single day, the same amount that 50 pirogues catch in one year.

“Africa is at the epicentre between sustainable management and unsustainable mining of marine fisheries,” says the report.

Some 130 foreign fishing vessels from the EU, China and Japan pay Mozambique about $4.1-million in annual licence fees. Foreign ships don’t employ Mozambican seamen and don’t dock at Mozambican ports, preferring the efficient ports in Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar.

On 22 July the Minister for Sea, Inland Water and Fisheries, Agostinho Mondlane, told parliament that foreign fishing vessels declare some 5 000 tons of catches but might well catch six times as much.

Telling the story

Back in Maputo, the museum’s director, Larsen Augusto Vales, a fisheries official who for 12 years dreamed of displaying this collection, is proud “to preserve our cultural heritage”.

Indeed, the artefacts have a handsome home. What it is missing is a coherent narrative that links the reed traps and sails inside to the mamanas and boats outside.

The building is contemporary in design, but the exhibition concept is traditional and static, its gaze turned towards the past. Fisheries conservation, management, social and economic context get short shrift. There is little interactivity - essential for its key public, urban students - except chatting to the guides.

But this is easy to fix, to chart a narrative that shows its young visitors that fishing is not boring stuff from history. It relates to their daily lives, it is part of their future.

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