Six Chinese trawlers that arrived in Liberia in mid-June could be denied licenses to fish in Liberia after fisheries authorities found errors in documents.
According to the director-general of National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority, Emma Glassco, the six Chinese vessels Hao Yuan Yu 860, 861, 862, 863, 865 and 866 have expired transit documents and lack documents authorizing them to fish in distant waters.
“Their authorization paper from the flag state which is the People Republic of China has expired. Now China as a flag state needed to issue these [trawlers] authorization to enable them to fish beyond China’s Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) or in distant water,” said Glasco, director-general of NaFAA.
Glassco’s remark, which is the first official statement from NaFFA since local small-scale fishermen protested against the potential issuance of licenses to Chinese trawlers in mid-June, was addressed to industrial seafarers, another group that is protesting in favor of the issuance of licenses to Chinese vessels.
Seafarers under the banner, Liberia Seamen Union, who mostly work onboard industrial fishing vessels, said seafaring operations have also been impacted by measures including social distancing and the 25 percent workplace-population regulation (work spaces must all comprise up to 25 percent of workforce) imposed by the Liberian government to curb the spread of the virus in the country.
During their protest, the group petitioned the authorities of NaFAA to grant the Chinese trawlers the green light to fish in Liberia, a move which they say could boost their chances of employment in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In Liberia the Coronavirus has compounded economic hardship on the 83 percent of the population who already live below a dollar per day. The World Bank has projected that the country’s GDP will contract by 2.2 percent in this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak before recovering to 4.1 percent in 2022. Additionally, the poverty rate in the country is projected to increase from 44.5 percent in 2019 to 45.4 percent this year.
However, the request of industrial seafarers in the midst of these trying times seems not to have landed on fertile ground as NaFAA boss warned that the issuance of licenses to Chinese trawlers in the absence of sensitive documents could undermine compliance gains made in Liberia’s fisheries sector.
“It is really difficult to issue licenses to these vessels at the moment because there are issues if we ignore, we could be [breaching] international protocols. We could risk a red card from the EU which has already flagged us a yellow card for [breaching] protocols. [Moreover], this will also hamper the market repelling international vessels from operating in Liberian waters,” said Glasco.
The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) between the EU and Liberia give vessels within the European Union access to the Liberian EEZ for a maximum of 28 tuna purse seiners and 6 surface longliners in exchange for an annual EU financial compensation of EUR357,000 for the first year, EUR325,000 for the second, third and fourth years and EUR292,500 for the last year, plus an annual maximum amount for the support and implementation of Liberia’s fisheries sectoral policy equal to the EU annual compensation.
Despite NaFAA boss emphasizing her agency’s commitment to responsible fisheries, she has not utterly ruled out licensing the six trawlers. She said that her agency is awaiting response from the trawlers.
“We have asked them to reach the Chinese Embassy and request authorization notes from their government and we have not heard from them yet,” she said.
Licensing of these trawlers would be an addition to the six Chinese trawlers of GUOJI company already fishing in Liberia under the Chinese flag and an addition to already 64 industrial trawlers fishing for the same species being caught by small-scale fishermen.
It can be recalled, on the 19th of June, three days after the arrival of these Chinese trawlers from a failed fishing attempt in Mozambique, local artisanal fishermen across Liberia protested against the issuance of licenses from Liberia’s fisheries authorities.
The group said that the increasing number of trawlers poses increased economic hardship upon them and will decimate the fish stock in the future.
“We hope our leaders consider [the future] before dialoguing issues like these. We are already stranded, we are barely getting catch because of these massive trawlers. This means no good for us, these vessels are not considering the ecosystem of water and if we keep quiet now, we will suffer it tomorrow,” said Jerry Blamo, President of Liberia Artisanal Fishermen’s Association (LAFA).
Researchers have estimated that the trawlers applying for licenses have a catch capacity around 2,000 tonnes per year. This is 4,000 times the catch of a local Kru canoe, which each employ up to four Liberians and catch an average of 500 kg a year.