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Staying Above the Political Fray

It was mid 2009, about sunset and I had gone on Popo Beach, in New Kru Town, right next to the Coast Guard Base on the Bushrod Island to greet my elder sister, but more so, to await her husband who had gone to fish for a little gesture of some of his catch.

After waiting for about an hour I was startled by the look on their faces (His Colleagues and Him) as they defied the outpouring wave of the Atlantic Ocean and jet in ashore.

His demeanor has changed and eyes looked bloated, with his fishing nets disheveled not the usual after fishing mood I know of my in-law so I rushed to inquire what was wrong.

Did not you have enough catch? And before he could respond I ran with another question did the sea wave take your net into the deep? And he responded in the negative.

“Not really, we had some tussle with ‘Black face’ (A Korean Fishing Trawler) and some of our men got hurt and our nets damaged. They planted their trawlers right where we had our nets posted and when we engaged them they wasted hot water on us and ran away”, he continued.

These uncanny upheavals amongst local fishermen and Foreign Trawlers which sometimes results into bloodbath may have caused the introduction of the 6 nautical miles inshore exclusion zone in 2010 as part of an improved Fishing Regulation.

The cries of consistent harassment from foreign vessel had cut across the approximately 3,300 canoes and more than 11,000 fishers operating from 114 fish landing sites along Liberia’s 580 kilometer (360 mile) coastline, and about 33,000 people are directly dependant on marine fisheries for their employment and income.
Whereas, prior to its introduction, during the 1990s and 2000s foreign vessels could fish up to three nautical miles off the Liberian coastline, and raking the seabed and destroying local ecosystems in the search for high value commercial species such as yellow croaker, which are found close to shore.

Seven years after the restriction and preservation, the Liberian government has faced a stiff battled to increase revenue generation and explore uncharted economic territories to raise the needed revenue and finance its numerous development needs.

For some reasons, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s decision through Executive Order 84 to cut halve from six to three the Inshore Exclusion Zone reserved gained sufficient backlash, rejection, from almost all spears of the public.

Despite the Shoddy feedback and rejection from some Liberians and International Partners, the GoLhad maintained that the decision is precipitated by the underutilization of the Liberian fishery resources and to encourage investment in the sector to ensure the sustainable development and utilization of this natural resource.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) says the move will increase competition from foreign industrial vessels which would export their catch overseas. This will mean a drop in the levels of fish being supplied to Liberia and an increase in food prices.

Currently, 65 percent of Liberia’s animal protein comes from the fishing sector and some 80 percent of the population depends on cheap fish for their main source of protein intake according to the World Food Programme. Much of this fish comes from artisanal fleets.

While the government preaches revenue generation and sustained economic growth, oppositions to the move have consistently said it will disadvantage small scale fishermen and deplete the country’s fisheries reserve.

Unlike her neighbor Liberia, Sierra Leone (WARFP-SL) still has an enforced Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ) of five to six nautical miles from the baseline to the shore and reserved exclusively for artisanal fishermen thus corroborating enquires about why are we in a hurry?

In the absence of controls, large fishing operators have constantly flouted laws designed to conserve and manage fish stocks and protect marine biodiversity and habitat as they fish when and where they want, even in marine protected areas or zones reserved for local fishermen.

Oftentimes, these large vessels under declare their catch and may target high value protected species. They may use illegal fishing gears, including banned drift nets or nets that have small mesh sizes that cause a huge waste of marine life.

In fact, most of these trawlers drag heavy nets along the ocean floor, scooping up any marine life in their path. Once the nets are pulled up onto the trawler, commercially valuable species are identified, and the remainder as much as 75% of the total catch, known as by catch, is dumped, dead or dying, back into the ocean.

By operating in the three nautical miles into the Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ), these vessels will not only reduced the catch for the local artisanal fishers, but would destroy their nets and caused conflicts, injuries and even deaths.

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.

This will in effect, hinder the ability of the already economically challenged artisanal fishermen to make adequate grabs to sustain their families as well as supply the local market.

It has been proven, that large fishing vessels primary objective has remained to export best catch to bigger markets thereby leaving the local markets with little or nothing.

In my opinion, the reduction in exclusion zone will result in decrease in catch, incomes, and would further exacerbate the already tense conflict of territory that exists between industrial trawlers and local fishermen.

The livelihoods of more than 33,000 people who rely on this industry stand at risk if the necessary benchmarks are not put into place to ensure that adequate protection and support are provided to the local fishermen.

In order to spur the much needed economic growth in the fishing industry to raise the needed revenue, there is a need for increased investment and empowerment of local fishermen through trainings, provision of loans to enable them purchase larger nets and vessels to compete with those foreign firms.
Going forward, the Liberia Maritime Authority must develop and institute rigid monitoring strategies that would monitor large trawlers operating in our territorial waters and ensure that artisanal fishermen are protected as they are always disadvantaged.

About the Author
Edward Blamo is a young writer and Journalist with a considerable experience in the Maritime Sector.
He studies Mass Communication at the United Methodist University and is a 2013 graduate of the Liberia Marine Training Institute LMTI.
He can be reached at reyes.eb86@gmail.com

By Edward Blamo

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