By Surihe Gaomas SWAKOPMUND The three-day Benguela Environment Fisheries Interaction and Training Forum (BENEFIT) ended on a positive note, with scope for building more capacity, research data as well as increasing science expertise in Southern Africa. Close to 70 marine scientists and oceanographers from Namibia, Angola and South Africa deliberated on how to address the challenges facing fishing industries along the resource-rich Benguela coastline. Addressing the experts at the end of the event, Dr Neville Sweijd of BENEFIT said that although deliberations were fruitful, there is a lot of scope for development. “We have made tremendous strides and there are a few institutional problems. Our main challenges are there still on capacity building and building skills and expertise in this field,” explained Dr Sweijd. Concern has been growing over too much fishing, thereby placing a severe strain on fish resources in the region. This is further worsened by the Benguela Nino weather phenomenon that is causing the depletion of pelagic fish stocks. However, since its inception in 1997, BENEFIT has made contributions to marine science and provided better understanding of the ocean environment. Through the German agency GTZ and more contributions from Norway, BENEFIT has budgeted N$28,6 million for 2006/2007, which is earmarked for coastal monitoring, ships, time and training. Speaking to New Era at the end, chairperson of BENEFIT Fransisca Delgado said that the presentations and discussions boosted the playing field for Angolan scientists to improve their research and presentation skills, especially in the English language. “We have upgraded the Angolan scientists and since Portuguese is the main language in Angola this is an ideal platform for them to improve their English language skills and technical know-how in the science field,” said Delgado. At the same time she said such a forum was beneficial as it put all the relevant scientists from all three countries under one roof to share their expertise and skills. Comments from donors like GTZ and Norway were that such a gathering has increasingly become more interactive as it closes the gap of poor communication between scientists that used to be experienced in the past. “It serves to rally the science community across the region,” some experts commented. GTZ was of the opinion that it was a positive move for both BENEFIT and the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme (BCLME) to work together towards a common goal over the years. While the quality of work delivered was commendable, the challenges are how to link such academic science to actual needs of the decision makers and managers at a political level. Since Namibia is rated as having “one of the most successful fisheries development programmes” it is bound to receive more funds from Norway in the near future through the NORAD institution. Norwegian support to Southern Africa’s BENEFIT has been commendable. Such financial support was provided first to Angola in 1985; Namibia joined as a beneficiary in 1990 and South Africa in 1994. Such funding has in turn gone a long way in making training programmes, fisheries research and coastal monitoring a reality. This was the ninth annual meeting of BENEFIT, after which it will take a different form at its tenth symposium next year. By the end of next year BENEFIT looks set to be transformed into an Interim Benguela Current Commission (IBCC) with funding of between N$9 million and N$12 million from the Global Environment Fund (GEF) for the second phase.
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