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Liberian fishermen oppose licensing of Chinese super trawlers

Liberian fishermen have opposed the arrival in Liberia of six Chinese supertrawlers with the potential to catch over 12,000 tonnes of fish a year – nearly twice the nation’s sustainable catch of key fish populations.

Small-scale canoe fishers here, including the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association, the Grand Cape Mount County and Montserrado County Community Management Associations released a joint statement, calling on the Government of Liberia to consider the livelihoods and food security of coastal communities and reject the Chinese request for fishing licenses.

According to the release, six Chinese supertrawlers arrived in Monrovia on 15 June. They include Hao Yuan Yu 860, 861, 862, 863, 865 and 866 – all recently constructed in China.

It says after attempting to undertake fishing operations in Mozambique, the Chinese headed for Liberia, and each supertrawler may be capable of catching at least 2,000 tonnes of fish per year of key bottom-dwelling species that are important to local fishermen, which represents 4,000 times the catch of a local Kru canoe that employs about four Liberians and catch an average of 500 kg yearly.

According to the release, Liberian fisheries legislation requires that only vessels that do not “threaten the sustainability of a fishery resource” are licensed by National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority.

It notes that the arrival of these trawlers is a part of a major influx of foreign industrial vessels across West Africa, detailing that in Senegal, 52 vessels applied for licenses, which would have put an enormous strain on local marine resources, but were rejected, while in Ghana, three new trawlers from China still await a decision from the government, amid serious concern from local canoe fishers.

The President of the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association, Jerry N. Blamo, hopes that the government will respect Liberian law and protect the interests of local coastal communities and their shared marine environment. “Our waters support local jobs and provide good quality food, but granting these massive supertrawlers fishing licenses would destroy that”, he warns.

Charles Simpson, President of the Grand Cape Mount County Community Management Association, said, over the last decade, the Association has worked extremely hard to stop illegal fishing and overfishing, saying, “We slowly see more fish for local fishermen to catch and women to process. However, he noted that the Chinese supertrawlers would unfairly compete for the same fish as local fishermen and reverse all of that progress. “We are calling on the government to safeguard Liberian coastal communities by refusing fishing licenses for these vessels.”

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According to the President of the Montserrado County and Bomi County Community Management Associations, small-scale fishing is an important source of jobs for people here in Monrovia and across the country.

“In earlier decades, local fishermen could not earn a livelihood because of rampant overfishing, but in recent years things have improved. These supertrawlers would be a big step backwards, harming jobs and future food security”, Mr. P. NyanteeSleh laments.

The Liberian groups were joined by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an international non-governmental organisation that works in Liberia and other West African countries to combat illegal fishing and promote the sustainable management of marine resources.

The Executive Director of Environmental Justice Foundation, Steve Trent, says Liberia has taken enormous steps forward in managing its fisheries, and the National Fishing and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) has played a positive role combatting illegal and unsustainable fishing, but hopes that NaFAA continues to prioritise small-scale fishermen so that they can continue to provide jobs and food security and work together to preserve the marine environment for future generations of Liberians.

The release quotes fisheries scientists as saying that Liberia’s maximum sustainable catch of these key species ¬– including by local fishermen – is only 7,136 tonnes a year, but that the Chinese vessels alone could have the capacity to catch almost twice as much as the total national sustainable catch, potentially decimating vital fish stocks in just a few years, with serious implications for livelihoods and food security, especially amid impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, which threaten to plunge millions of the world’s poorest into famine.

The New Dawn has not contacted authorities at the National Fishing and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) to asctertain whether they have plans to license the Chinese supertrawlers to fish in Liberian waters. Press Release

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