The management of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) and the administration of the University of Liberia have signed a memorandum of understanding for a degree program in fisheries science.
With funding of US$1.2 million from the World Bank, the program intends to build the capacity of aspiring fishery scientists to manage Liberia’s rich fisheries sector and to produce local fisheries scientists to assess and monitor fish and aquatic invertebrate populations to determine the ecological and economic health of the environment as well as to determine harvest rates of various species.
According to NaFAA, the program will then help bridge the knowledge gap in the country’s fisheries sector by investing in human resource capacity development which could help maximize the potential in the sector and Liberians would have a fair appreciation of the commercially viable species.
“[We] will also offer a short-term certificate program,” disclosed Emma Metieh Glassco, Managing Director of NaFAA. “We’re also targeting our fisherfolks to acquire knowledge and skills in fish processing to compete with others in the sub-region. It will have an impact on the economy.”
Degrees to be offered include bachelor and associate along with certificate programs. The introduction of the fisheries science degree as an academic discipline in Liberia has been a long-running dream of the NaFAA boss who has been worried about the challenges Liberian students go through acquiring a degree in Fisheries Science abroad.
It is estimated that the fisheries sector stands to be the highest source of government revenue if it’s well managed. This is not possible in the absence of trained professionals. The degree program, once it gets in motion, would address the education needs of aspiring fishery scientists. Fish is a primary source of protein for many Liberians and is second only to rice as the most purchased food commodity. Small-scale fishers provide the majority of the domestic fish supply.
While models differ on their predictions about the impacts of climate change on West Africa’s coastal fisheries, a recent study found that climate change may increase their productivity, but benefits for local fishing communities will only be realized if threats such as poor governance and overfishing by other nations are effectively addressed.
The government’s capacity to manage and regulate fisheries collapsed during the civil war, leading to widespread illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Liberian waters. Annual per capita fish consumption is among the lowest in the region and has decreased over time due to damage to fisheries infrastructure during the civil war, over-exploitation of resources during this period.
Since then, the country has continued to grapple with issues of law enforcement capacity, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of resources to properly survey fisheries. A recent analysis estimates that IUU catches in Liberia are worth about US$75 million per year. This study also found small-scale catches are “grossly underestimated” and that exploitable fish biomass “could generate a sustainable catch sufficient to meet Liberians’ need for animal protein.
Meanwhile, the MoU, which paved the way for the program was signed between Glassco and Dr. Julius Sawolo Nelson, President of the University of Liberia. It required the administration of the University of Liberia to identify five of its dilapidated buildings for rehabilitation for use by the program, while NaFAAis responsible to provide funding for the establishment of the program and renovate five buildings.
“Via the Vice President for Administration, the UL is responsible for awareness and sensitization on the new career and course as well as to create a motivation scheme to the general public interest in acquiring this new skill through the degree-granting program,” the MoU says. “While NaFAA, under the MoU, shall provide funding for the establishment of the fisheries program; renovate five buildings and construct bathrooms; provide funding for training for faculty members for the fisheries program; and set up a laboratory and provide all the apparatus and equipment.”
Earlier, Dr. Nelson lavished praise on the NaFAA Director-General and her team for their innovation in introducing the program in the Liberian education sector. He described the signing as a celebration at the university while promising to create awareness to attract more people to fisheries science.
“Today is a day for celebration at the University of Liberia,” Dr. Nelson said. “After several interactions, consultations and discussions, we’re here to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Liberia and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority.
“We intend to recruit for this program and therefore we’re encouraging schools to help create awareness to have more students on board. We are proud to have one of our own, an alumnus - working hard to uplift her alma mater”, Dr. Nelson added.
The signing took place on March 10, at the University of Liberia’s Fendall campus.