Namibia’s Marine Resources Act

Namibia’s Marine Resources Act


By loading the video, you agree to YouTube’s privacy policy.
Learn more

Load video

In the year 2000, Namibia introduced a rights-based and scientific approach to fisheries management, thereby significantly reducing bycatch and illegal fishing. Namibia’s Marine Resources Act has contributed to an ecologically and economically sustainable fishing industry, created jobs and fostered food security in Namibia. The principles applied in Namibia closely follow international guidelines for sustainable fisheries management and have the potential to guide management and governance of industrial fisheries in other nations and on the high-seas.

In 2012, the World Future Council awarded the Act with a Future Policy Silver Award for instituting an ecologically and economically viable fishing industry, based on scientific evidence and a rights-based management system.

At a Glance
  • The Marine Resources Act (2000) is comprehensive legislation conforming with international guidelines on sustainable, ecosystem-based fisheries management.
  • The Marine Resources Act addresses all key drivers of overfishing: setting clear quotas (through Total Allowable Catches) and banning harmful fishing methods and gear, overcapacities from subsidies, bycatch and discards.
  • The Act was amended in 2015 to clarify several key terms and redefine the mandate of the Ministry in charge of the Marine Resources Act in relation to determining a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) based on the best scientific evidence available. The amendment also stresses that the State of Namibia can utilise its marine resources to advance socio-economical, cultural or other objectives of the government for public interest.

There are concerns about animal welfare and sustainability of the seal population 

Policy Reference

Marine Resources Act (MRA) 27 of 2000

Marine Resources Amendment Act (2015)

Connected Policies

The 1990 Constitution of the Republic of Namibia

Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone of Namibia Act, 3 of 1990.

Regulations relating to the exploitation of marine resources 241, 2001.

Inland Fisheries Act, 2003.

Namibia´s Marine Resources Policy, 2004.

Environmental Management Act, 2007.

Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations: Environmental Management Act, 2007.

Policy statement (guidelines) for granting of rights to harvest marine resources and the allocation of fishing quota, 2009.

Selection as a Future-Just Policy

Namibia’s waters support rich fishing grounds, fed by the Benguela current, however, when Namibia gained independence in 1990, it faced over-exploited fisheries, with no regulations for their sustainable management. More than 300 mid-water and bottom trawl vessels were operating off the Namibian coast, primarily from Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs).

The Namibian Constitution of 1990 set a new direction, with the sustainable use of ecological resources by Namibians for the benefit of current and future generations included as a principle. Over the past two decades, Namibia has developed laws and regulations, as well as technical expertise, to manage its fisheries on a more sustainable basis, and the Marine Resources Act of 2000 provides a comprehensive framework for this purpose.

With the Marine Resources Act, Namibia has opted for a rights-based approach to fisheries management as opposed to heavily subsidising the sector to promote development and to ensure that Namibians hold the primary rights to their marine resources for their food and livelihoods. The Act ensures that all rights holders are Namibians and that fishing companies with rights are 51% beneficially controlled by Namibians.

There are strict regulations on when and where vessels are permitted to fish, and the methods and gear employed. Total allowable catches are fixed annually for key commercial species, based on scientific evidence. The Ministry of Fisheries and Natural Resources has responded to declines in catch by imposing moratoria and notably, in 2009, a three-year moratorium was placed on fishing for orange roughy, an extremely valuable but slow growing, deep-sea fish. Recovery of the fish numbers has been slow but, in general, a successful process. With the amendments of 2015, Namibia has increased efforts to develop the Act further and by determining the TACs based on the latest scientific methods available. However, several concerns have been raised regarding the implementation of the Act.

Relating to the most controversial aspect of the Marine Resources Act is the Total Allowable Catch set for seals, which has increased in recent years, despite conservation groups calling for an end to the seal cull in Namibia. Officially, the seal quota is set for the protection of the fishing industry, since the seals are believed to consume large quantities of fish. According to the Act, the seal population is treated as any other fishery resources open to commercial exploitation, but criticism has been raised that regular population counts to ensure the scientific accuracy of assigned quotas are not conducted.

Criticisms have been raised that corruption (including the influence of some Spanish commercial fishing companies) has been hindering the implementation of the Act. Cases of illegal discards of fish have become public knowledge with increased frequency due to the low deterrence value of the imposed fines. The Namibian government introduced an Anti-Corruption Commission in 2003, in an effort to prevent such activities.

The economic sustainability and efficiency of the Act have received criticism. Allocating Individual fishing quotas have been allocated to Namibians, according to the Act’s regulations, but without providing sufficient resources, capacity or support. Since most Namibians do not have the fishing capacity, namely, start-up capital, fishing fleet, or fishing experience, they often sell their assigned quotas.

Nonetheless, the law remains exemplary as it puts international standards to fisheries management into practice in a time when even ‘industrialised countries’, e.g. the EU, are struggling to prevent overfishing, illegal discards and bycatch.

Future-Just Policy Scorecard

Our “Best Policies” are those that meet the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise the interconnected challenges we face today. The goal of principled policy work is to ensure that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are taken into account. It also helps to increase policy coherence between different sectors.

   Sustainable use of natural resources

  • The law helps to preserve fish and other marine resources, for current and future generations, by placing limits on catch and size of fish.
  • Together with the Inland Fisheries Act, it addresses all stakeholders involved via a regional council or traditional authority. Traditional knowledge and governance structures are respected in this regard.
  • Biodiversity is protected by ensuring that commercial species are not overfished and that bycatch is addressed.
  • The process of setting the quotas for seal harvesting could be improved through greater transparency.

   Equity and poverty eradication

  • The Act states that “The Minister may from time to time determine the general policy with regard to the conservation and utilization of marine resources in order to realize the greatest benefit for all Namibians both present and future.
  • The government actively supports local fish consumption by making it available at reduced prices for disadvantaged groups.
  • Employment in the fisheries sector has increased and training programmes exist for vessel operation and ownership. Greater effort is required to ensure that the related knowledge and essential capacity are transferred to local communities.
  • Larger fishing companies create trusts and pay royalties to communities and provide grants for education.

   Precautionary approach

  • The Environmental Management Act of Namibia promotes the sustainable management of the environment and the use of natural resources by establishing principles for decision making on matters affecting the environment.
  • This is also reflected in the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations.
  • Due to lack of capacity and resources, the determining of quotas may not always be based upon a comprehensive and thorough process.
  • The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is always represented on mining institution bodies so that the fisheries and marine ecosystem are not affected by the mining and diamonds sector.

   Public participation, access to information and justice

  • The government engages with employees and representatives of the fishing and non-profit sectors via advisory councils.
  • Redress is handled through Namibian court system.
  • Greater efforts may be needed on the government’s part, to ensure the benefits of the Act reach the people it is intended for.

    Good governance and human security

  • The Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources is the principle Administrator of the Act and determines the overall policy of the Fisheries Observer Agency.
  • The Fisheries Observer Agency trains and supervises observers who supervise the harvesting, handling, and processing of marine resources and related operations.
  • The Minister also appoints fisheries inspectors who are able to carry out checks on conformity to the Act without warning and without a warrant.
  • The Marine Resources Advisory Council advises the Minister responsible for fisheries and marine resources. It is composed of a Ministry staff member, and knowledgeable persons as well as representatives and employees of the fishing industry.
  • The Minister uses the Marine Resources Fund for research, training, development and education in relation to marine resources. This fund is supported by the payments for licences to fish and via levies on all fish caught.
  • With respect to illegal fishing, in 1990 and 1991, 11 Spanish and Congolese trawlers were arrested for illegal fishing and successfully prosecuted, since then effective monitoring, control and surveillance has led to improved compliance.
  • Observer programmes help provide transparency and prevent corruption (there is 70-100 per cent observer coverage); sea, air and shore patrols; and complete monitoring of all landings (100 per cent). The Government has set up an Anti-Corruption Commission in 2003.


   Integration and interrelationship

  • Total Allowable Catches are fixed annually for key commercial species, based on scientific evidence linking both economic and environmental considerations. The Ministry of Fisheries and Natural Resources has responded to declines in catch by imposing moratoria.

   Common but differentiated responsibilities

  • In making appointments to the board of the Fisheries Observer Agency and the Marine Advisory Council, the Minister must take gender balance into consideration.
  • The policy of “Namibianisation” takes into consideration historical inequalities.
  • Fishing licenses and quotas are available to previously disadvantaged communities or marginalised people – to chief/ elder councils.

Namibia´s waters support one of the world´s most productive fishing grounds, fed by the Benguela Current. Unregulated industrial fishing, however, had driven the fish population to the brink of collapse.

Due to the dry, harsh climate, indigenous people and early colonialists did not settle extensively on the coast and even today marine subsistence fishing is largely absent. It was only in the 1960s that industrial fishers arrived from distant water fishing nations. By the time of Namibian independence from South Africa in 1990, fish stocks were heavily depleted. The Namibian Constitution of 1990 set a new direction, with the sustainable use of ecological resources by Namibians for the benefit of current and future generations included as a principle. Over the past two decades, Namibia has developed laws and regulations, as well as technical expertise, to manage its fisheries on a more sustainable basis, and the Marine Resources Act of 2000 provides a comprehensive framework for this purpose.

Independence permitted the new government to start afresh and develop a fisheries management system based on scientific evidence. A guiding principle was the sustainable use of ecological resources for the benefit of current and future generations as stated by the 1990 Constitution. Over the past two decades, Namibia has developed laws and institutions, as well as the required technical expertise, to manage its fisheries on a more sustainable basis. The Marine Resources Act sets regulations to address the key drivers of the degradation of marine capture fisheries: bycatch and discards, illegal fishing, overcapacity from subsidies and harmful fishing gear. Namibia also cooperates in monitoring and surveillance efforts on a regional basis with neighbouring South Africa and Angola through the Benguela Current Commission.


The Marine Resources Act aims to:

  • Provide for the conservation of the marine ecosystems.
  • Provide for the responsible utilisation, conservation, protection and promotion of marine resources on a sustainable basis.
  • Build an economy that creates jobs for Namibian people and empowers the previously disadvantaged.
Methods of Implementation

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is responsible for the implementation of the law, supported by the Marine Resources Advisory Council, composed of experts representing other ministries, the industry trade unions and research institutions. In addition, the Namibia Maritime Fisheries Institute is responsible for training, as well as the National Marine Information and Research Centre. The Marine Resources Act provides comprehensive powers for the implementing body to take measures on:

  • The location and time of harvesting operations;
  • Quantities of marine resources to be harvested;
  • Fishing methods and gears including no driftnets, no formation trawling, no beam trawling, mesh size limits to protect juveniles and grid selectivity devices;
  • Designating marine reserves;
  • Fixing Total Allowable Catches for key commercial fish species based on best scientific evidence;
  • Minimum fish size to be landed; and, Ground closures.

Other means of implementation include:

  • A rights-based approach with set quotas as opposed to subsidies schemes. The fishing industry does not receive subsidies, particularly in the form of manufacturing or tax relief incentives, in order to prevent over-fishing from overcapitalisation and trade distortion.
  • Two licences to fish are required (one for harvesting and one for the vessel) for both individuals and corporations, including foreigners. The vessel licence can be rejected if the biological sustainability of a resource is threatened.
  • A strict monitoring, control and surveillance system has been set up, consisting of onboard observers, sea, air and shore patrols, monitoring of landings in the two ports and reports on movements and catch by other vessels. Namibia is presently installing a satellite-based vessel monitoring system.
  • Due to the policy of ‘Namibianisation’ (or ‘Africanisation’), only agreements with the South African Development Commission have been signed, entitling companies to receive a licence.
  • There are strict Environmental Impact Assessment regulations for offshore oil, gas and diamond extraction.

There are some concerns with regards to the implementation of the Marine Resource Act. These include:

  • The tardiness of the decision-making process in response to serious violations of the fisheries law and regulations. One of the major critiques related to the Marine Resources act is the problem of illegally discarding bycatch. Compliance lacks in some fisheries as it takes too much time to punish the violations and the fines have a low deterrence value.
  • There has also been difficulty in determining the correct calculations of revenues from fisheries landings.

Several concerns have been raised regarding the implementation of the Act in terms of ensuring sufficient resources, capacity, training and support to Namibians to engage in fishing activities, learn new skills, take a new livelihood and generally benefit from the Act.


As a post-independence African country still in the midst of establishing and implementing a comprehensive policy framework for biodiversity, Namibia has been able to successfully build a national fishing industry. At the same time, it has managed to ensure sustainability by using Total Allowance Catch schemes and moratoria for endangered species.

Namibia follows the scientific recommendations on TACs rather rigorously, to a level not seen in many other countries. Most fisheries, apart from sardines and orange roughy, have shown slow signs of recovery.

Bycatch and illegal fishing have been reduced: the country has a history of strict prosecution of foreign vessels that are fishing illegally in the Namibian Exclusive Economic Zone. There are already some precedents where Namibia responded with a swift and speedy prosecution of foreign vessels.

The fisheries sector generates income for the government through:

  • The Marines Resources Fund levy – a levy on all landed species used to fund research and training.
  • A bycatch levy – discarding is prohibited so bycatch must be landed, with charge rates per tonne set on a species basis.
  • Vessel licence fees.

Namibia has developed a reputation of having one of the most effective monitoring, controlling and surveillance systems. Not all fishing vessels have installed this system yet, but the technical upgrade of the system in 2014 should allow the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Affairs to track and monitor all licensed fishing vessels.

The legislation requires that all licensed vessels have a functional Vessel Monitoring System on board, which is also a minimum requirement to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. The Vessel Monitoring System can, by use of Automatic Location Communicator, also monitor the location of fishing vessels. The installation of this device will become compulsory for vessel desiring to fish in Namibian waters. All information is sent to the Vessel Monitoring System Centre in Walvis Bay for analysis and later to the surveillance enforcement personnel for further processing and action if needed.

Recovery of the fish numbers has been slow but, in general, a successful process. The Namibian coastline has a very small number of coastal communities, with very few coastal towns, which also means that very few Namibians rely on subsistence fishing and around 90% of the total catch is exported for commercial use. Stemming from this situation, there is a lack of knowledge in commercial fishing. Additional public information on the Act, along with training and skills programmes to increase the local communities’ capacity to engage in fishing activities could be useful to ensure full benefits of the Act.

Potential as a Transferable Model
  • There is an ongoing initiative involving Namibia, South Africa and Angola under the Benguela Current Commission to promote the sustainable management and protection of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (shared by these three countries). It is an important initiative that can help to strengthen the monitoring and surveillance systems for sustainable fisheries management in the region and that way help to overcome compliance issues. This represents a novel and unique approach for regional cooperation based on fisheries management in the region.
  • The rights based approach, over subsidies, may be applicable to many other regions. However, the situation of not having any artisanal, small-scale fishery is rather unique. Management measures including Total Allowable Catches, quotas, closed areas, gear restrictions, levies on by-catches, and strict enforcement measures, such as those enacted in Namibia, are also widely applicable across different scales and for areas beyond national jurisdiction.
  • Nonetheless, the top-down approach employed in Namibia is more appropriate to managing large scale fisheries, but might not be suitable in for governance of small-scale fisheries.
Additional Resources
  • More recently, the Namibian Government, through the National Planning Commission, is coordinating ‘Vision 2030’, a long-term development plan, including a strategy for the fisheries sector. The strategies for marine resources include:

Nichols, Paul, Marine Fisheries Management in Namibia: Has it worked? In: Sumaila, Ussif Rashid, Boyer, David; Skogen, Morten D., Steinshamn, Stein Ivar (eds.): Namibia’s Fisheries: Ecological, Economic, and Social Aspects, Eburon 2004, p. 319-332.

Print this page