Interview: Jean-Luc Wilain
How can Gabon increase production in the fisheries sector and realise its full potential?
JEAN-LUC WILAIN: It varies according to the segment. Industrial fishing of tuna is experiencing satisfactory volumes and should maintain its current level. Concerning small pelagic fish like sardines, fishing activities remain marginal compared to the potential estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. There are promising opportunities for development in both local consumption and export. To test the extent of pelagic resources, in July 2013 we launched an experimental industrial fishing programme in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food Safety. To realise its full potential, regulation, food safety conditions and value-added should be improved. Shrimp fisheries could be revitalised and deep-sea crab fishing also presents possibilities.
Grey market fishing produced around 23,000 tonnes in 2012, representing more than half of Gabon’s consumption. The challenge in this case is to enhance the value of this resource in a regulated and sustainable way. Globally, investment should focus on factors enabling favourable conditions, such as the establishment of a competent fishing authority, sustainable management of resources, implementation of an attractive legislative framework and, especially, adequate infrastructure for logistics services and ship repair.
What are the main challenges to overcome in the downstream fishing sector?
WILAIN: There is a need for infrastructure and trained operators in value-added activities such as logistics, stocking and processing. To this end, an existing wharf is being refurbished to expand its capacity so it can receive deliveries of up to around 1000 tonnes. However, these new activities also require specific training, and as time goes by more investment in infrastructure and refrigerated storage facilities will also be needed. Gabon benefits from proximity to its fishing areas, but has to further develop other competitive advantages such as tax exemptions for fuel or Customs agreements. These advantages, coupled with infrastructure development, will likely raise production. However, Gabon also possesses a limited local market, so it must look to exports to absorb the industry outputs.
How can the level of local participation in the value-added fishing industry be increased?
WILAIN: In line with the Emerging Gabon strategic plan, coastal regions must become key players in their fishing zones. The government’s goal of accomplishing this through public-private partnerships is positive and will certainly lead to further collaboration with experts in other fisheries segments. State participation in this industrial effort also benefits the decision-making process in terms of the socioeconomic and environmental issues that need to be kept in mind in order to develop a sustainable economy. It is important to exercise tighter control over this and Gabon’s engagement has already shown results, especially in terms of licences for tuna fishing. In addition, a particular effort should be made to establish an extensive aquaculture industry, which would benefit from natural conditions without negatively impacting the environment.
What measures should be implemented to improve the competitiveness of local production?
WILAIN: Besides the above-mentioned measures related to resource management and operations, a favourable tax framework and promotion of local added value, combined with accesses to foreign markets, are absolutely necessary to be part of the global value chain. Effort will, therefore, be focused on attracting know-how and capital to participate in the development of Gabon’s marine industry. This must be complemented by specific measures aimed at lowering operating costs, especially utility costs, to face fierce worldwide competition. And last but not least, human resource development must be addressed with an education plan that targets the industry’s requirements.
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