An association of small scale fishermen and women from nine coastal counties under the banner of the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association (LAFA) has expressed disappointment with Executive Order 84, issued by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Executive Order 84 reduces Liberia’s Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ) from six nautical miles to three, and is among other measures aimed at revitalizing commercial and semi-industrial fishing in Liberia.
The group, with a reported membership of 350,000 and headquartered in West Point, said in a letter to House Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay, which was read in Tuesday’s session, that Executive Order 84 is not in the their best interest.
“This decision has the propensity to create serious hardship on the already poor and struggling artisanal (small scale) fishermen,” stated the letter under the signatures of Mr. Jerry N. Blamo, the Secretary General, and President Nyantee Sleh Sr.
“Moreover, with respect to the 2010 Fisheries Regulation that brought the West Africa Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP) to Liberia, the executive order undermines government’s commitment to the next five years of the WARFP project. In 2010, the fisheries regulation was approved to regulate the sector and to restrict the inshore-exclusive zone (IEZ),” the letter said.
It added: “Honorable Speaker, in putting this regulation into action, stakeholder consultative meetings were held and all stakeholders from various institutions, including the West Africa Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP) and the international communities, participated in these meetings, which brought to being the fisheries regulation.”
Members of the House of Representatives have voted unanimously for the letter to be forwarded to the leadership and to meet with the President, because of the gravity of the complaint, which involves the livelihoods of 350,000 fishermen and women who are from nine coastal counties, namely: Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Sinoe, Grand Kru and Maryland counties.
Executive Order 84
Executive Order 84 quoted Article 7 of the Constitution in which it made reference to the equitable management of Liberia’s natural resources so as to advance the general welfare of the people and the economic development of the country.
The Order said the fishery resources of Liberia have been underutilized for over a decade and the government intends to encourage investment in the sector to ensure the sustainable development and utilization of its natural resources.
It said in furtherance of its intentions to start sustainably utilizing its fishery resources, the government has recognized that the Bureau of National Fisheries, a unit under the Ministry of Agriculture, needs to be granted an autonomous status to enable it meet up with the demands of the fishing industry, and reduce the government’s bureaucracy around the process of obtaining a fishing license.
The government has therefore initiated a process to pass legislation to transform the Bureau of National Fisheries to an autonomous agency of government charged with the responsibility of managing and developing Liberia’s fishery resources, which would eventually attract investment and expand Liberia’s fisheries and aquaculture sectors.
The Order further said the Liberian government is cognizant of the lengthy process involved with passing said legislation, and realizes the need to institute an interim measure to ensure that Liberia begins the process of reforming its fisheries sector.
In view of the foregoing, President Sirleaf issued an interim measure until such time the National Fisheries Act is enacted into law thus establishing an autonomous fisheries agency.
The Order granted the Maritime Authority complete supervisory and fiscal authority of the Bureau of National Fisheries and Liberia’s fishery resources pending the enactment of the National Fisheries Act. This authority, she said, shall include the promulgation of regulations, guidelines, fees and the granting of licenses and authorizations for the sustainable utilization and management of Liberia’s fishery resources.
In its application, the Order charged the LMA to ensure that the objective is implemented, with the following measures in place:
“Supervisory and fiscal responsibilities over the Fisheries Sector…of the Bureau of National Fisheries shall now come under the full and complete control of the Liberia Maritime Authority; that the Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ) as established by the Fisheries Regulations of 2010 is hereby reduced from 6 nautical miles to 3 nautical miles. This is to ensure that industrial and semi-industrial fishing can restart and again become viable. That fishing vessels below 500 gross tons shall be exempt from all APM Terminal and other port charges; that the cumulative stock of fishery resources to be harvested shall not exceed 100,000 metric tons per annum; and that the Bureau of National Fisheries, under the supervision of the Liberia Maritime Authority, will issue and publish revised guidelines and fiscal regime for obtaining Fishery License.”
Meanwhile, a UK-based non-profit organization, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), has also frowned on the government for the Executive Order which aims to revitalize commercial and semi-industrial fishing in Liberia. However, the government has termed as “inaccurate” EJF’s interpretation of Executive Order 84.
According to a Ministry of Information press release, contrary to what the EJF asserts through its media campaign, the revitalization of commercial and semi-industrial fishing will, in no way, cause a drop in fish supplies to the local market but would rather lead to an increase.
The new guidelines, the release said, will be published before any new license is issued, and will ensure all fishing vessels take all catch in Liberia to the local market; and will lead to the consequent reduction in fish imports from Sierra Leone and other countries. Liberia currently imports nearly 50,000 metric tons of fish per year.
The release said the economic benefits from the domestic harvesting of fish rather than importing of fish will help the country’s balance of payment and the foreign exchange situation; and the benefit will help the country, including artisanal fishermen.