Every Sunday morning, ma Garmai and her teenage granddaughter scramble through a densely polluted area around the New Kru Town beach to check on what they had stashed (hidden) there.
“Before, we didn’t have to hide our market, but now people are always along the beach harassing us to stop looking for it (fish),” she added.
Surrounding her were dozens of fishnets and a basket that looked like it was made out of tree twigs and thread, but there were no signs of fish anywhere. Closely monitoring ma Garmai’s movements to see if she needed any assistance was her granddaughter, whom she said “comes with me every morning to check our basket and fish. If nothing is there, we send the basket back and check each one until we can see fish.”
Recently, the President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, signed Executive Order 84 to help stimulate the fishing business in Liberia, which translates to stopping those who are illegally fishing in and around Liberia’s ocean property and giving the right of way to those who are registered tax payers.
A report from the Executive Mansion recently stated that the government’s action to restrict fishing to only registered companies, came after ‘the Ministry of Agriculture was unable to control the fishing industry.’
“The decision was put in the hands of Maritime Authority,” stated the report.
Meanwhile, ma Garmai sells smoked fish for a living, which helped her build her house out of US$200 worth of mud bricks, and contributes to her families’ development, including “my granddaughter’s school fees,” she added.
She said after the 14-year civil war that claimed the lives of most of her children, she started selling fish in her backyard in New Kru Town.
“I started fishing on my own, bringing sometimes 5 or 10 fish, and like that it increased each day, month and year,” she added.
Though many in her community say they don’t understand why ma Garmai sells her fish so expensive – snapper at L$350, other fish at L$100 for three pieces – ma Garmai said that the price of fish has gone up.
“It is not every day I catch fish because the place we used to fish has security all around there, so we are trying this new spot. Most often I have to buy fish to resell,” she said.
Meanwhile, ma Garmai asked not to be photographed.
Most fish smokers are women, with most of them living in WestPoint, New Kru Town and communities along the Saint Paul River. Now that the new law has been put in place, they gradually understand that the business is no longer only theirs.
“New fishing regulations have opened up Liberia’s ample waters to Chinese vessels via a controversial executive order 84 the artisanal fishing industry, the life blood of the economy in West Point, is struggling to survive. Locals see the new order as a death blow.
The EU has been a strong advocate against illegal fishing and has expressed a commitment to ensure the sustainable use of the sea and its resources under the EU Common Fisheries Policy, and in the context of promoting better governance of the oceans worldwide,” stated international professional photojournalist, M. Holden.