Although officials of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) have begun a vigorous awareness campaign to educate local fishermen on what the Authority says are the immense benefits of the recent controversial fisheries agreement signed between Liberia and Senegal, fishermen in Montserrado County have expressed fear that the deal will not benefit Liberia.
The campaign to educate local fishermen came as the result of public concerns that the fisheries agreement is not in the interest of the country.
Jerry Blamo, acting president of the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association (LAFA) informed journalists at a meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 5 by NaFAA in West Point, a fishing community in Monrovia, that local fishermen do not welcome the initiative for the 300 fishing vessels from Senegal to explore the country’s territorial waters.
According to him, the fisheries deal will benefit neither the local fishermen nor the country because the Senegalese fishermen have a bad fishing history.
“We are already aware of how destructively the Senegalese operate. The Senegalese are noted for exploiting special species of fish, damaging and depleting the waters. We are not even sure of the monitoring system that will be put into place by the fishing authorities to ensure that the agreement benefit the country. Most fishing vessels currently operating in our waters are not closely being monitored,” he said.
“NaFAA did not inform us about the fishery agreement to get our feedback. But now they want to convince us that the agreement is in the interest of fishermen and the country,” adding that their concerns are something that must be considered.
He further stated that, while they welcome the educational engagements about the agreement, there is a need that the government think on how to empower local fishermen instead of having additional foreign vessels to fish in Liberian waters.
Blamo recalled that similar agreement was brought before the fishing communities by the past government but was strongly resisted.
“There were lots of promises made to have foreign vessels operate in our waters in previous years but these arrangements did not benefit us fishermen. Many of our fishermen were attacked on sea and fish they caught were not mostly sold on the local market,” he added.
“Even the Executive Order 64 issued by [former President] Madam Sirleaf’s government did not succeed because it was not in the best interest of Liberians. This is why we cannot welcome this agreement,” he added.
At the meeting on Tuesday, the Director General General of NaFAA, Emma Glassco, told the fishermen that the fisheries agreement with Senegal was now before the Legislature for scrutiny, adding that it is in the best interest of the fishing communities in Liberia.
She informed the local fishermen that the intention of the fisheries agreement is to generate needed revenues from certain species of fish that are not marketable in Liberia, but have greater export value.
“There are lot of species in our waters that have not been extracted and, when explored, will bring a lot of money for the country. Liberia does not have the market to utilize certain species of fish which will be used for export,” she said.
Madam Glassco clarified that the fisheries agreement was not binding on either country, adding that the fishing vessels in question have not yet been licensed.
She urged the fishermen to remain calm as she works with the requisite authorities to approve the document.
The deputy director general for administration for NaFAA, Augustine M. Monoballah, told journalists at the meeting that the awareness campaign was necessary given that the fisheries agreement has become politicized.
He said they are holding meetings with leaders of fishing communities, explaining details about the agreement and receiving warm reception. “This exercise is meant to dispel the rumors being carried by the media that local fishermen hopes are dashed,” he told journalists.
Meanwhile, a source has confirmed to this paper that the fisheries document is not a recent development but has been in progress since 2010. The source further said that because of sophisticated monitoring system being introduced by NaFAA over the years, Liberia stands to benefit greatly from the fisheries agreement when implemented.
According to the fisheries agreement which is in possession of this paper, the agreement shall last for a period of 5 years when signed in to law. It shall seek to strengthen relations in fisheries between the Governments of Liberia and Senegal by promoting cooperation in the areas including the exploration and management of living marine resources, valuation and marketing of fisheries and aquaculture products, fisheries research, conservation of marine and coastal environment, training and capacity building of fishermen, as well as fisheries monitoring and safety at sea for artisanal fishermen. Other benefits of the agreement include, the development of aquaculture, fisheries and aquaculture safety products, development and partnership between economic operators in the private sector, fisheries communities empowerment and development and fisheries and aquaculture culture information sharing.