An environmental group known as the Environmental Justice Foundation or EJF has warned that the Government risks undermining the country’s food security if it continues with its plan to allow industrial vessels greater access to fish in its coastal waters.
President Ellen Johnson SIrleaf recently issued an Executive Order to halve the Inshore Exclusive Zone or IEZ, currently reserved for artisanal fishermen, reducing it from six nautical miles to just three. This will allow industrial vessels, including trawlers, to fish much closer to the shore.
65% of Liberia’s animal protein comes from the fishing sector; much of it from artisanal fleets.But EJF says reducing the exclusion zone would see an almost inevitable rise of competition from foreign industrial vessels fishing in coastal waters, and could put the livelihoods of the 33,000 people who rely on this industry at risk.
It said moreover, as most foreign catch is exported overseas, the expected reduction in levels of fish being supplied to Liberia would threaten the food security of hundreds of thousands of citizens.
The Community Management Association from Robertsport, representing artisanal fisherman in the region said: “We are extremely disappointed by the government’s decision to halve the IEZ. Since its introduction, the zone has helped local fishers see a huge increase in fish catch, and in our incomes. By reducing the IEZ, the government will pave the way for industrial trawlers to reenter our coastal waters and steal the fish that we rely on to feed our families. Local fishing communities are now mobilizing together to urge the government to reverse this damaging decision, which, if it goes ahead, will put local fishermen, their families and the entire country’s food security at risk.”
Liberia’s coastal waters are also a vital spawning and breeding ground for many species of fish. Allowing trawlers so close to the coast would endanger the region’s fragile marine ecosystems, further compromising the long-term sustainability of fish stocks in Liberian waters.
EJF Executive Director Steve Trent said: “By removing the six nautical mile limit, the Liberian government is favouring short-term economic interests over the needs of its people. The limit underpins the sustainability of the fisheries that provide vital food, livelihoods and incomes for hundreds of thousands of Liberians. Removing it threatens the very survival of these fisheries, and the well-being of all those who depend on them.” EJF is urging the Government of Liberia to reconsider the proposal to halve its IEZ and to safeguard this vital tool for current and future generations of coastal communities.