Trade in Aquarium Coral Reef Fish in Mozambique



Helena Motta


Ministry for the Co-ordination of Environmental Affairs (MICOA)

Coastal Zone Management Unit, P.O.Box 804, Maputo, Mozambique

Phone: (258-1) 496106/498757/498754, FAX: (258) 1-498758




Mozambique, Integrated Coastal Zone Management, Coral Reefs, Ornamental (Aquarium) Fish, International Trade, Legal and Institutional Framework


The current population of Mozambique is estimated at more than 16.5 million, and expected to grow at an annual rate of 3%. A significant percentage of this population, about 42%, lives in the coastal zone and depends on the resources available in this area. Further, with the export of valuable fishery products and a growing industry of coastal tourism, the economy of the country depends largely on the marine and coastal resources.

Coral Trade

In Mozambique, the coral trade has long had destructive effects on the coral reefs. Until very recently, licenses were granted to different private companies but no effective control was undertaken. Although no more new licenses are being issued since 1999, when the Government imposed a complete ban on export of coral and coral fishes, there is certainly still some illegal activity of collecting, processing and exporting corals.

Most of the private companies involved in this business were operating in the northern part of the country. The quantities were considerable and the preferred coral genera included the Acropora, Pocillopora, Seriatopora, Lobophyllia and Tubipora.

Corals were exported to several countries including Portugal, Italy, Spain, United States of America and Germany.

The Aquarium Fish Trade

Mozambique possesses considerable coral reef resources that could, with all probability, support a viable, profitable and environmentally sustainable ornamental fish trade. However, the greatest obstacle to the establishment and long-term success of this trade in Mozambique will be the lack of management and regulatory resources to ensure that the fish collection is undertaken in a way that poses no long-term threat to the reef fish populations or to the integrity of the reef habitat as a whole. This is a situation that faces many of the major ornamental fish exporting countries that are often developing countries with few resources to manage or police the trade. Consequently, severe habitat damage has occurred to large areas of reefs in these countries through over-exploitation of reef fish and the use of environmentally damaging harvesting techniques.

Scale and Economic Benefits of the Trade

Between 1985-1997, Mozambique was in the top-ten list of the marine invertebrates exporting countries in the world, with an estimated 1% share of the world’s total trade. It is estimated that Mozambique exported around USD 5 million worth in coral between 1994 and 1997, altogether. Estimates point to an average gain to the collector of less than 1.5 % (i.e., USD 75,000 was the benefit for the fishermen during the same period). On the other side, information from the Ministry in charge of regulating the export market in Mozambique (the Ministry of Industry and Commerce), shows that Mozambique gets less than 20% of the prices in the international market The majority of these organisms were destined for retail sale in Portugal. According to CITES annual data for 1997, Mozambique exported 35% (by piece) of the world coral skeleton being Spain the main importer.

Environmental Effects

Despite the scale of the trade, the economic benefits for Mozambique were limited and in no way reflected the importance of the natural resources being exploited. As for the ornamental (aquarium) fish, and although the previous commercial operations in Mozambique have been, by international standards, relatively small, there had already been reports from local fishermen and tourism operators that the effects of the activities were having a major detrimental effect on the coral reefs of the area. These concerns were formalized by the local community and tourism association, and led to concerns being expressed at the inter-institutional technical committee for coastal zone management. In response to these concerns, in February 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries published a nationwide directive ordering an immediate two-year moratorium on the trade in corals and ornamental fish.

It is in direct response to this directive that MICOA (Ministry for the Co-ordination of Environmental Affairs) initiated a study as Phase I of a long-term investigation of the ornamental fish trade in Mozambique; the ultimate aim of which is to ensure the sustainable management of the country’s reef fish resources.






A Framework for the Management of Coral Reefs and Associated Coastal

Ecosystems in Mozambique



Helena Motta



The Mozambican coastline, about 2,770 Km long, is the third longest in Africa and is characterised by wide diversity of habitats including sandy beaches, sand dunes, coral reefs, estuarine systems, bays, mangroves and seagrass beds. The current population of the country is estimated at more than 16.5 million, about 42% of which lives in the coastal zone and depends on coastal resources. Through the export of valuable fishery products and a growing coastal tourism, the economy of the country largely depends on marine and coastal resources as an important foreign exchange earner. Despite this role, conservation efforts, which have been prominent in the country, have largely neglected coastal environments in the past which barely constitute less than 1% of the protected area. With recent government initiatives in the late 1990s, a coherent framework of environmental programmes have been set apace, creating room for the development of National Coastal Zone management Programme, with a specific plan for the sustainable management of coral reef and associated coastal resources in Mozambique. The paper is thus an attempt throw light on the efforts in Mozambique to establish an institutional and legal framework for the management of coral reefs and associated ecosystems. It describes the efforts by the government to establish specific programmes of action for areas of concern, specially related to coral reefs and ornamental fisheries, within the broader framework of integrated coastal area management.

Specifically, a master plan of National Environmental Management Programme (NEMP) was approved by the government in June 1994. The plan contains a national environmental policy and relevant umbrella legislation, and an overall strategy of implementation. The NEMP is also a programme of sector plans, containing projections for the medium and long terms aiming to lead the country to sustainable socio-economic development. One of the priority areas of the NEMP is a number of activities related to integrated coastal zone management. Environmental Law was approved by the Parliament, which constitutes the first attempt to introduce a new concept of the environment and a new vision and strategy for its management, both for the institution’s activities and for the public in general. Due to the comprehensive nature of this law, complementary sector legislation must be produced to respond to specific situations and needs. As for the arrangement for the coastal zone, it proposes the current inter-institutional committee to became a technical subcommittee of the National Council for Sustainable Development, created by the environmental Law. While producing national environmental legislation the country has adopted and ratified in the last years important international environmental conventions, such as, among others, the Conventions on Biological Diversity, Climate Change and Protection and Management of the Marine and Coastal Environments in the Eastern African Region.

At the regional level, Mozambique has given support to the establishment in Maputo, in 1997, of SEACAM, the Secretariat for Eastern African Coastal Area Management, which followed a regional consensus since the Arusha Declaration and Seychelles meeting. The Secretariat has been collaborating with other regional agencies such as the Regional Co-ordination Unit of the Nairobi Convention. In 1998, the Mozambican concept of coastal zone management was presented to a broad forum of African countries in the Pan African Congress for Sustainable Integrated Coastal Management (PACSICOM), which was held in Maputo. The concept was widely accepted, as well as the foundations for regional programmes for the co-ordination of coastal management were laid.

Within the framework of the above initiative, MICOA has recently initiated a project for the development of a National Coastal Zone Management Program (NCZMP). This program encompasses the entire coastal zone and is multi-disciplinary in its approach. It is further envisaged that one of the components of this NCZMP will address the critical ecosystems which comprise the coastal environment; such as coral reefs. Specifically, the coral reef management plan aims to address the component within the NZCMP entitled "National Programs for Specific Ecosystems".

In the light of this background information and discussions with a variety of individuals and groups that are involved in coral reefs, four larger areas of activity stand out as being vital for the attainment of the main goal of sustainable management of coral reef resources, namelly: (i) capacity building within the relevant fields required for effective sustainable management; (ii) the collection and synthesis of relevant information and scientific data in support of sound management; (iii) the development of an appropriate and effective network for the coordination and sustenance of coral reef management related activities; and (iv) the process of identifying, characterizing and addressing current and eventual problems with coral reefs and their management.


As an integral part of the recommended actions at national level, Mozambique is now preparing a five year programme of activities within the framework of the whole National Programme for Coastal Zone Management. The programme is addressing the most urgent priorities for action at national level, the following are the immediate objectives of this programme: (i) establishment of an appropriate institutional and legal framework for costal zone management; (ii) awareness raising and capacity building of all relevant stakeholders in the coastal area management; (iii) improvement of natural resources management trough research, planning and legislation enforcement.

Beneficiaries of this programme will be found at local level, which will benefit from capacity building and training programmes, increased and more secure access to natural resources. Furthermore, local administrations are expected to practise a certain level of integrated coastal zone management on the basis of land-use plan. Such plans will focus on issues related to the development of coastal cities, tourism, sewage management, habitat protection, sustainable use of resources, ports and industry development, protected areas, etc. On the other hand national sub-programmes for the management of specific ecosystems will also be prepared, such as the sub-programmes on coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds and others.