EAF-Nansen Programme

Beach seine fishery in the Gulf of Guinea: Striking a balance between safeguarding livelihoods and maintaining a healthy ocean


Life of many of the coastal communities in west Africa depends on the resources coming from beach seine fishing – an artisanal technique, traditionally handed down from generation to generation and practised all year round by different fishing communities and often entire families.

For small-scale fishers in the Gulf of Guinea, beach seine fishing often represents the basis of their household income and employment, and for many people inhabiting fishing villages it is central to food security and livelihoods.

“Beach seine fishery is very important for fishing communities in the region given its social aspect. When practised in a fishing village, majority of fishers come to pick up at least one fish to eat, and an impressive number of people participate in hauling the beach seine nets,” said Augustin Amoussougbo, Secretary-General at the National Federation of Artisanal Fishermen in Benin.

Fishmongers at a fish market in Benin © Dr Zacharie Sohou

However, this traditional fishing method is not well-regulated in the region today and its possible impacts on fish populations, marine habitats and the marine environment are causing controversies about the long-term sustainability of the fishery.

Togo, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire are the three countries in the Gulf of Guinea that are currently benefitting from the technical support of the EAF-Nansen Programme for the implementation of national beach seine fisheries management plans that were developed to improve the situation in the region.

“At present, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), through the EAF-Nansen Programme, is assisting Benin, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire in implementing the agreed measures under the national beach seine management plans. One of the activities relate to the setting up of a pilot project aimed at enlarging the mesh size of the nets in order to safeguard the fish stocks in the Gulf of Guinea region,” explained Mr Bernard Akitikpa, Head of Marine Fisheries Division at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Benin and the National Coordinator of the Beach Seine Fisheries project.

These plans were developed with the support of the EAF-Nansen programme in its previous phase, using an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF) management framework. In this context, regional activities have also been designed with the objective to reinforce collaboration among the three countries for the implementation of their national management plans and sharing lessons learned.

“Regional discussions with the countries on possible solutions and lessons learned are useful for the implementation of the fisheries management plans. In particular, many of the exploited resources, which are shared among the countries in the region, are in need of adopting a holistic approach that takes into consideration ecological and socio-economic consequences of fishing activities. The EAF-Nansen Programme provides support to the countries at both national and regional level, with the aim to make the fisheries in the Gulf of Guinea more sustainable,” explained Ms Merete Tandstad, The EAF-Nansen Programme coordinator.

Excessive catch of juvenile fish is a key issue in beach seine fishing ©FAO/Matthieu Bernardon


To achieve a well-managed and well-regulated beach seine fishery, the following management measures have been identified and should be implemented in joint collaboration with fishermen:

  • Control of fishing effort

It is crucial to define rules and to regulate access to fishery resources in order to guarantee the sustainability of the stocks. For this, the characteristics of the beach seine nets have been defined (length, drop, and mesh net size), the maximum number of fishing boats has been validated, and registration of the fishing boats has been initiated as well as the issuance of fishing licenses.

  • Introduction of closed seasons  

Closed seasons are a tool for conserving fish stocks and for ensuring sustainable management of fisheries. The introduction of the closed seasons at certain critical stages in the lifecycle of species allows the stocks to grow. In addition, gathering experience and collecting biological information are important steps to identify the critical periods when fisheries should be closed.  

  • Improving fishing selectivity to reduce catches of juvenile fish  

By increasing the mesh size of the beach seine nets, fewer juvenile fish will be caught and less small species of no commercial value, but important for the marine ecosystem, will be captured. Hence, increasing the mesh size should make it possible to obtain better catches with less impact on marine environment.

  • Protecting critical habitats

Estuaries, lagoons, coral reefs or mangroves are a few examples of so-called critical habitats, characterized by rich biodiversity. They often serve as spawning or breeding areas for commercial species as well as a refuge for endangered or threatened species. Therefore, protecting these areas from excessive human interaction (e.g. fishing, tourism, or pollution) will help safeguard the coastal zone and ensure the sustainability of fishery in a long-term.

  • Monitoring of the beach seine fishery

Regular monitoring of beach seine fishing activities can take many forms, such as questionnaires sent out to fishers, sampling of the fishing activity and catches, including biological parameters. Monitoring is essential to assess the state of the exploited resources and if needed, to adjust a fishing method, in order not to jeopardize the sustainability of the fishery.

So far, some actions have been taken by Togo, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire towards the regulation and management of the beach seine activity. For example, in Côte d'Ivoire and Benin, new laws have entered into force that support the implementation of the management plans.

“While a beach seine fishery management plan exists in Benin, the country has encountered some delay in making it operational at the national level. At the same time, it is recognized that to manage the activity well, priority needs to be given to the implementation of the management plan. This is why the support of the EAF-Nansen Programme is of crucial importance in setting up the appropriate processes, collecting the right information in line with the priorities identified under the plan, and following the management measures. For example, fishermen should respect the mesh size of the nets, as per recommendations under the management plan,” underlined Mr Gaston Djihinto, Director of the Fishery Production at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Benin.  

In Benin, for example, a pilot activity is being put in place to apply the net mesh size of 24 millimetres, instead of currently used 10 – 22 millimetres.

“Fishermen in Benin are nowadays more aware of the damage caused by the beach seine fishery to the marine environment. They contribute today to the success of the activity by agreeing to increase the mesh size of the nets. Some of them even propose to forbid the use of the beach seine nets and replace them with less harmful gears,” added Mr Akitikpa. 

The big challenge of striking a balance between safeguarding livelihoods of coastal communities and maintaining a healthy ocean is respecting the regulation and encourage the fishers to comply with the recommended measures, such as the right mesh size of the nets in order to avoid an excessive catch of juvenile fish.

“Excessive catch of juvenile fish, which affects the recruitment of commercial fish stocks, has been identified as a key issue in beach seine fishing. Research shows that the activity captures diversity of marine resources of which 65 to 97 percent are juvenile fish. Therefore, an optimal mesh size of the beach seine nets is essential to ensure the sustainability of the stock,” concluded Dr Zacharie Sohou, Director of Institute of Fisheries and Oceanological Research in Benin.


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