The Need for a Protected Area System in Fisheries and Biodiversity

Management: An Eritrean Case


Iyob Tsehaye


Department of Marine Biology and Fisheries

University of Asmara, P.o.BOX 1220; Asmara, Eritrea



Eritrea has a coastline of more than 1200kms along the Red Sea and more than 350 islands. Owing to the thirty years of war for liberation, human activity in the Eritrean Red Sea has been minimal in terms of both commercial exploitation of natural resources and tourism. At present there are only few major industries along the coastline and human settlement is at its lowest level. However, the fisheries sector has been expanding at a great pace over the last decade. Yet, the country is said to currently harvest below what is reported to be the maximum sustainable yield. The Red Sea is a unique environment that has a very high level of bio-diversity. There are many species that are endemic to the Red Sea. The sea also harbours a wide range of ecosystems including mangrove swamps, seagrass beds, macro-algal communities and coral reefs. These habitats are interconnected and are often described as critical. The sea provides home to several species that are in the list of species of high conservation concern world wide. It supports major nesting populations of the endangered green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretochelys imbricata) turtles. Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) have been heavily exploited for food, but still nest wherever suitable beaches occur.

Marine protected areas are believed to offer the best prospects for the management of coral reef fisheries and biodiversity. Often they are established to increase fish spawning biomass and provide source of recruits to neighboring areas, which would be subjected to higher intensities of fishing. They can also be important reserves of biodiversity and hence are essential basis for tourism development. Protected areas can serve as a control in the assessment of the effects of different resource exploitation regimes. At present there are no officially declared coastal and marine protected areas in Eritrea. There are still ambiguities over which ministries have the mandate in the creation of MPA's, although the Fisheries Proclamation (1998) authorizes the minister that he/she, in consultation with the concerned bodies, can declare any area of the Eritrean waters and adjoining coasts to be marine protected areas. The planning process for protected areas is underway as part of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) initiatives. Several islands, such as Sciumma and Black Assarca, have been recommended to be designated as national parks in Eritrea. International experience has shown that it is a mistake to postpone, by legislation or otherwise, the establishment and management of MPA's until extensive research and survey programs have been completed. Sufficient information often exists to make sound decisions regarding the designation of marine protected areas.




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