A project in the fisheries sector, aimed at strengthening the capacity of Liberia to govern and manage targeted fisheries, reduce illegal fishing and increase local value added to fish products, seems to be doing more harm than good to Seamen, the sector and the country as a whole, according to Seamen.
The project, under the name, West Africa Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP) in Liberia, was developed in April 2010 and is sponsored by the World Bank. It is being implemented and managed by the government of Liberian through the Bureau of National Fisheries (BNF), located at the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).
Several thousand members of the United Seaman Port and General Workers Union (USPGWU) are now out of job as a result of what is termed as unrealistic and unthinkable regulations and procedural processes instituted under the project for the sector, an executive of the union has said.
According to the president of USPGWU, Freeman Trokon Gueh, the regulations of WARFP have scared away numerous vessel owners that were registered under the Liberian fishing flagship. This is having negative effects on the sector.
He said nine of the ten registered ships are no longer operating as a result of the “stringent and unrealistic regulations.”
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer last Tuesday, Mr. Gueh said the departure of the ship owners has created a huge embarrassment in the fishing sector, most especially in regards to members of the union that depended on the ships for the survival of themselves and their families.
He said the WARFP regulations increased the monthly salary of BNF observer from US$300.00 to US900.00 assigned on board each of the vessels.
The USPGWU boss further noted that besides the US$900.00 monthly salary, ship owners are also mandated to pay US$1000.00 as salary to the Bureau’s Inspector also assigned with each of the vessels.
“This harsh regulation also demands vessel operators to give to the Bureau 10% of every fishing trip they would make on sea. These are some of the regulations that have forced most of our investors, especially those in the fishing industry, to leave the country with their vessels. This has caused most of our fishermen to be out of job,” Mr. Gueh said.
He disclosed that there is only one vessel that is currently operating in Liberia, Global Ocean Fishing Corporation, owned by a Korean national.
“Prior to the WARFP regulation, we had over ten vessels that were operating in the country and these ship owners employed thousands of Liberians on the vessels. Unfortunately their departure has caused our brothers and sisters to lose their jobs,”
“My brother, after paying all those fees mentioned earlier as a ship owner, not knowing actually what your daily or monthly catches will be, what do you expect investors to profit? How do you think people will operate under such conditions?” he asked rather rhetorically.
He said government needs to intervene to help save the lives of vulnerable and helpless Liberians from dying. “We need to reconsider the regulation because it is not in the interest of the Liberian people.
Because of the problem that this situation has caused, Mr. Gueh said, the fishing business in the country now has now been left in the hands of foreigners, most Lebanese, who bring their fish from afar.
“It is only the Lebanese business people who are importing fish in the country. We are not catching fish anymore in our waters. This is why the prices of fish continue to increase in the country.
When contacted by this newspaper for comments, an executive of BNF only identified as Kaye could neither confirm nor deny the allegations. He rather referred the reporter to the Ministry of Agriculture.
“I don’t want to make any comment on the issue; I advise that you go to the MOA which is responsible to address such issues and not the Bureau. We are not an autonomous agency; we are operating directly under the Ministry,” Kaye said.
Meanwhile, the WARFP regulation was developed with support from the World Bank, the Global Environment, the African Catalytic Growth (ACG) sustainably to increase the wealth generated by the exploration of Liberia’s marine fish resources and the portion of the wealth captured in the local economy.
An Adaptive Program Loan (APL) of US$200 million was approved for the implementation of the WARFP in nine West African Countries (Mauritania to Ghana) for a ten-year period out of which Liberia was granted US$12 for the implementation of WARFP for the first five years.
An additional US$2 million from the Africa Catalytic Growth was approved for the WARFP in Liberia to support the rehabilitation of the erstwhile Mesurado Fishing Pier.