Gabon: Heart of the Congo Basin, A Program for No-Take Expansion

Gabon Expedition Oil Rig

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – The Congo Basin Coast boasts 145,000 square kilometers spanning the coastlines of Gabon and Congo, including primary habitat for endangered marine turtles, dolphins, whales, and manatees among a productive network of coastal lagoons and nearshore habitat for robust fish assemblages. Human population density is low and centered in three major cities, leaving beaches and wetlands almost completely undeveloped. Small fishing communities dot the coast, and their livelihoods depend on access to fresh water, natural protection from storms and floods, and healthy, productive stocks of fish.  Unfortunately, only a small fraction of this magnificent wild coast and adjacent waters are legally protected, a result of increasing threats by poorly planned development and unregulated extraction of its rich natural capital emerge. Unsustainable hunting of manatees, crocodiles, dolphins, and hippopotamus to supply the bushmeat trade, overfishing in both coastal and in offshore rich waters, and fishery by-catch of endangered marine species all threaten the currently intact ecosystem. The health of fishing stocks as well as its ecosystems underpins the survival of local communities, key flora and fauna, and businesses. The overall seafood stock has fallen dramatically over the past ten years. As a result, prices have increased dramatically for domestically-sold fish, to the point where Gabon has been importing fish to meet existing demand. The reduced stock creates a negative feedback loop where fishermen become more desperate to find product in the sea. This, in turn, leads them to fish where, when, and for species they are not supposed to.

Opportunity & Goals

The Government of Gabon recognizes that their existing network of protected areas is inadequate to preserve the country’s ocean wildlife and marine resources. As much as 60 percent of all fishing occurring in Gabonese waters is illegal, unreported, and/or unregulated (IUU), and public discontent is growing. The President of Gabon recognizes that this fishing generates no measureable income for the country, while displacing subsistence fishing and placing additional pressures on terrestrial sources of protein, such as bushmeat,  Working closely with the Gabon Agence National des Parcs Nationaux (ANPN), WCS is providing the scientific and technical expertise necessary to implement new marine conservation laws which, in part, call for rigorous limits on fishing and the creation of marine protected areas (MPA’s) within a system of expanded national parks. The Gabonese President himself has publicly committed to the expansion of MPA’s through the creation of a Presidential Coastal Task Force to create no-take reserves in existing protected areas and establish new protected areas.  WCS in partnership with ANPN aims for a dramatic increase, a minimum of 2,100 square kilometers, in officially declared no-take zones. This will be accomplished through a Presidential initiative for a new and expanded system of MPA’s—justified by a science-based identification of the most important areas that include Mayumba, Loango, Pongara, and Akanda.

Accomplishments & Conclusion

WCS has developed management plans for the Mayumba region and presented these to the government for review. Fishing communities respect fisheries limits and are using legal fishing gear, which has reduced bycatch. Major efforts have been made in restructuring artisanal fisheries in Libreville, which are now being replicated across the country, notably in Port-Gentil. Currently more than 90 percent of the artisanal fleet in Libreville is operating within the requirements of their fishing licenses. Previously in mid-2014, only 16 percent of artisanal boats were found to be operating legally. Combined marine and aerial surveillance patrols are operating along the length of the coast to detect and deter illegal fishing activity. Aerial patrols detect illegal activity rapidly and these data are transmitted immediately to marine surveillance patrols to intercept fishermen. After only a short period of time, the issue of illegal fishing was quickly brought under control through these operations in Port-Gentil. Development of MPA’s has been slowed by changes at the ministerial level, although government enthusiasm for the marine spatial plan remains. Major progress has been made in improving conservation of marine biodiversity, including developing the marine spatial plan announced by the President of Gabon in November 2014. Management plans have been developed for large artisanal fishing zones and MPAs in Gabon, which have been presented to the government. Great advances have been made in developing marine surveillance in Gabon’s EEZ.

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