EJF’s Report Cautions on Illegal Fishing in Liberia’s Waters

Chinese trawlers at the Monrovia Free Port on the Bushrod Island, patiently awaiting licensing from NaFAA.

But NaFAA authorities denounce report as “fabricated, misleading, baseless…”

A recent report captioned LIBERIAN FISHING COMMUNITIES THREATENED BY CHINESE SUPERTRAWLERS published by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), has linked the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) to supporting illegal fishing activities in Liberia’s territorial waters.

According to the report, Six Chinese supertrawlers have arrived in the country, capable of taking over 12,000 tonnes of fish a year – nearly twice the nation’s sustainable catch which has sparked outrage among canoe fishers, who fear for their jobs and food security.

“The Liberia Artisanal Fishermen’s Association was joined by local community fisheries associations in calling on the government to consider the livelihoods and food security of coastal communities and reject the request for fishing licenses. Their statement is underlined by the EJF, which warned against the unsustainable growth of distant water fishing fleets in the region and called for increased transparency,” the EJF’s report said.

Liberian fisheries legislation requires that only vessels that do not “threaten the sustainability of a fishery resource” are licensed by National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority.

However, NaFAA has registered with utmost dismay, the EJF’s report as fabricated, misleading, baseless, biased, and a complete fallacy and classification of “sensational journalism” which poses a threat to socio-economic and political stability.

“The report has the propensity to create an alarm on food security and environmental degradation and it is an instrument of political insecurity designed to incite the fisher folks against the fisheries administration in particular and Liberian populace as well as the State in general,” the release said.

“Considering that fishery is science-based, decisions on management measures are driven by evidence resulting from scientific research, timely and accurate data as well as reliable information. It is therefore prudent to provide accurate data and information to the public rather than unreliable information”, the release added.

“Acknowledging that ‘Liberia has taken enormous steps forward in managing its fisheries, and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) has played a positive role combatting illegal and unsustainable fishing and further acknowledging that fisheries management involves hard choices’ as indicated in your report, we want to emphatically provide clarity on the status of the vessels for public consumption and not due to public sentiment that may emanate from your unprofessional publication for which we owe you no explanation,” NaFAA said in the release.

The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority notes that the Artisanal fishery sub-sector in Liberia is an open fishery. Information and data collection is somehow difficult considering the complexity of the fisheries.

According to NaFAA, Liberia in addition to Togo, Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria, has successful experience in consolidating participatory data collection initiatives in the country.

“A case study report to be submitted to CECAF Secretariat for sharing with the group is ongoing. The artisanal fishery has benefited from fisheries good governance instituted by NaFAA judging from the increase in catch quantity and quality since the new fisheries regime was established in 2010”.

“Statistics revealed that Liberia recorded 5,500 tons landings for its small pelagic species alone in 2017, with an indication that the average catch for the last five years is 60,000 for Sardinella species alone in four selected neighboring countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, and Guinea Bissau.  However, management’s recommendation revealed that as a precautionary measure and due to uncertainty in the data, the catch should not exceed the current fishing level for 2017.  Currently, Liberia has no industrial fishing vessel harvesting pelagic species”.

Recent (2019) demersal survey report conducted by R/V Dr. Fridjof Nansen shows that Liberia has the highest biomass of 55,715 tons more than Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, and Guinea Bissau. Therefore, the MSY for demersal species cannot be 6,000 tons as mentioned by EJF.

The shrimp fishery in Liberia, based mainly on P. notialis, P. Atlantica, P. longirostris, P. kerathurus, and P. monodon was one of the first successfully established in West Africa, supporting an export industry for many years until the outbreak of the civil war in the 1990s. An economic analysis of the fishery undertaken by the International Finance Corporation in 2015 suggests optimal catch rates per vessel is  70 tons of shrimp per season, for vessels of 350 hp. Fishing effort in recent years has been low to non-existent, and the fishery is expected to provide high catch rates, particularly at the re-starting of the fishery[1].

At the moment there are no shrimper vessels licensed to fish in the Liberian waters. Liberia has a scientific fisheries observer program with trained and experienced personnel that will be deployed on all commercial shrimp vessels when registered as it is in the case of demersal trawlers.

Liberia is considered a role model and a vanguard force in the fight to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal fishing activities with its monitoring, control, and surveillance system is one of the best in the sub-region, a status Liberia have maintained and continue to maintain since 2010.  The core function of NaFAA is to sustainably manage its fisheries resources which provide food security, employment opportunity, income generation, and foreign exchange for the Liberian people.  This is evidenced by the licensing of six demersal trawlers with an average length of 35m, 270 GRT, and 120 horsepower, landing 800 tons per annum; fishing sustainably over the past six years.

“Cognizant of the importance of fish protein to the nation, NaFAA is exerting efforts to industrialize the fisheries sector as evidenced by the statement in your report mentioned above.  The institution shall in no way compromise the food security and well-being of its people. NaFAA will continue to protect the interest of the fishermen and the population who depend on fish resources for food security and the source of livelihood.  A decision relating to the status of licensing the vessels by NaFAA is still under a microscopic view bearing in mind sustainable management of Liberia fisheries resources. Therefore, it is with great dismay that the EJF will incite the Liberia Fishermen Association (LAFA) and Collaborative Management Association (CMA) against NaFAA when no decision has been reached to license these six trawlers,” said NaFAA.

According to NaFAA, Liberia has ratified various international binding and voluntary instruments that are of relevance to fisheries.  As such, the Government of Liberia will continue to uphold the conventions to which she is a signatory.

In conclusion, therefore, NaFAA urges the EJF and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) both national and international to operate within the scope of its thematic areas professionally and distance itself from any activity that may jeopardize the interest of the State and its people.

Meanwhile, Jerry N. Blamo, the President of the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen’s Association, who is also quoted in the EJF’s report, told the Daily Observer through a mobile phone conversation that local fishermen have strongly warned authorities of NaFAA not to license vessels that threaten the sustainability of the fisheries resource.

He said there are already six industrial Chinese fishing vessels that were license by NaFAA in the past which are creating problems for local fishermen.

According to him, these vessel licenses were done without the knowledge of the core management team of their fishing organizations.

“We are engaging the Government on those wrong practices that are hampering fishing operations. We lack the capacity to ensure that these wrong actions are curtailed, that is why we are calling on the media and the international partners to assist us in this regard,” he said.

Blamo said that they want to hold the authorities of NaFAA for their promise that the current controversial six Chinese fishing vessels will not be licensed.



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