Environmental risks, vagueness about accountability, benefits remain unexplained
Despite the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) declaring that recent fishery agreement between Liberia and Senegal will benefit Liberia in areas including, employment, reduction in illegal fishing activities, and ensuring food security, a document in the possession of this newspaper reveals untold information about the controversial agreement.
The document, titled, “PROTOCOL ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE AGREEMENT OF FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE COOPERATION BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SENEGAL AND THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA,” confirms that the agreement between the two African states is yet to be attested by the Liberia’s ministries of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) and Justice.
The document, however, discloses details about quantity of catch, catch report, quality of training under the agreement and fishing practices, which were not disclosed at NaFAA recent press briefing that was held at the Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism in Monrovia.
The document further covers processes for licenses delivery, boarding of observers on vessels that are under the agreement, catches deposit, licenses payment, the arrest of vessels, fishery research, fisheries monitoring and security, development of aquaculture (fish farming) sector, cooperate social responsibility, quality control and health certification and dispute resolution.
Despite NaFAA only confirming that 300 Senegalese vessels, which include 200 semi-industrial and 100 artisan canoes to fish in Liberia’s waters, the document states that vessels under the agreement will fish “in-demand” shrimp and tuna. The document further states that both shrimp and tuna in spite of the danger these fishing practices pose to marine ecosystem.”
The Senegal are fishing with demersal trawlers, fishing vessels with huge funnel-shaped nets that are dragged along the ocean floor in order to maximize the catch. However, because the net is dragged along the ocean floor, it also collects what is known as bycatch — additional plants and animals that make up the habitat in which the fish live and reproduce.
Demersal trawlers are considered dangerous because they scrape the ocean floor and, because of the way the trawlers operate, leave no habitat for fish to reproduce. Local fishermen surmise that the use of demersal trawlers may have contributed significantly to the depletion of fish in the Senegalese waters.
Concerns about Senegal
“A total capacity of 2000GRT shall be granted for the shrimp fisheries. Only 5 vessels per year for coastal shrimp trawlers with capacity per vessel not exceeding 250 GRT shall be granted to fish from 4NM [nautical miles] and above. Four vessels per year for coastal or cephalopod demersal trawlers [designed to catch bottom-living fish] with capacity per vessel not exceeding 250 GRT shall be granted to fish from 4NM and above. 4 vessels per annum, for fish demersal trawlers; 2000 GRT per year for coastal pelagic fishing; 30 vessels per year for tuna fishing 10 support vessels.”
The document states that the “catch declaration” by vessels under the agreement will be submitted to the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority of Liberia (NaFAA) and declaration will be done at the end of each fishing trip and in all cases before the end of the following month.
The protocol states that any vessel failing to declare catch may be suspended by NaFAA until its situation is regularized and it license may be withdrawn if the irregularity of the situation on the concerned vessel exceeds six (6) months.
“When the owner of the vessel holding a license issued under this protocol violates the above provisions, the fisheries Authority of Liberia may suspend the said license until its situation is regularized. The license may be withdrawn if the irregularity of the situation of the concerned vessel exceeds six (6) months.”
However the local fishermen, who who said they complain constantly about fishing vessels already illegally casting their nets in Liberian waters, now wonder how effectively would NaFAA be able to monitor 300 additional foreign vessels.
NaFAA, according to the agreement with Senegal, will require the “declaration of catches” from all registered vessels and subsequently the “landing of catches” for certain vessels. NaFAA has not spelt out how it intends to confirm catch catch reports.
Landing of catches
According to the document, Liberia will see 40% of catch from industrial vessels that are under the agreement landed in the country for both processing and local sale provided when fisheries port infrastructure becomes fully functional (no time frame given). However, in the case of artisanal canoes which have lower catch quantity will landed in Liberia but semi-industrial boats are not compelled to land their catches in Liberia.
Boarding of observer
As part of Liberia observatory role under the agreement, the document states that each industrial vessels will have onboard an observer designated by Liberia’s Fisheries Authority; however, tuna vessels covered by the agreement will have no observer onboard. The document states that observers will be required to fill in a fishing logbook and transmit the catch statistics in accordance of the Competent Authority of Liberia.
However there is no indication of means to monitor and evaluate the performance of observers, who are expected to work in the interest of the Liberian state, but are paid by the vessel to which they are assigned.
It states that industrial vessels under the protocol are obliged to pay for the observer fee and associated expenses in respect to the embarking and disembarking of the observer, an amount corresponding to the rates and condition in force in Liberia.
“Industrial fishing vessels, authorized to carry out their activities under this protocol, shall be obliged to pay an observer fee and associated expenses in respect to the embarking and disembarking of the observer, an amount corresponding to the rates and condition in force in Liberia.”
License fees for vessels fishing under this protocol shall be those fixed for national industrial fishing vessels of Liberia. Every year the Liberian authority shall provide Senegal with an approved price list. Artisanal and semi-industrial vessels shall pay a flat annual license fee of US$1,000 and US$1,500 respectively. For a total of 300 vessels as stipulated in the agreement, NaFAA would yield up to US$400,000 per year, just from licenses. There is no indication that other exercises such as declaration and landing of catch have fees attached.
Boarding of Seamen
The document says that vessels with 300 Gross Tonnage (GRT) or less must take three (3) Liberian seamen on board and vessels with more than 300 Gross Tonnage (GRT) must take four (4) Liberian seamen on board.
Arrest of Vessel
The document states that Liberia must notify Senegal within three working days of an arrest.
“Liberia shall notify Senegal within three working days, any arrest or violation by a Senegalese vessel holding a license issued under this protocol. This notification shall be accompanied by evidence of the offense complained of.”
The document says Senegal will receive citizens of Liberia in its training schools (training centers on fisheries and aquaculture and maritime training schools), according to the condition of admission of such institutions.
Areas of study include; supervision and financing of artisanal fisheries, socio-economy of artisanal fisheries/economic observatory of fisheries, collection and processing of fishery statistics, quality control of fishery and aquaculture products, approval of factories (standardization, quality control, certification, etc), fisheries management, monitoring, control and surveillance (training of inspector in methods and techniques for controlling vessels and fishing gears; g), management of seamen; h), and the development of Liberia aquaculture sector.
According to the document, the two parties will set up a protocol for scientific cooperation in order to support them in their policy on the exploitation and sustainable management of marine resources. This covers areas including, assessment of shard stocks, biology of species of common interest, study and monitoring of the parameters of river, coastal and marine environment, quality of fishery and aquaculture product, statistical and socio-economic monitoring of fishery (joint framework surveys, etc).
Perhaps, of primary concern to fishermen and environmentalists is the need for sustainable fishing in Liberian waters, learning from the Senegales experience. The question still lingers: What caused the depletion of fish from Senegal’s waters?
The document states that both Senegal and Liberia will exchange technical staffs in order to harmonize supervisory procedures and the two parties will provide mutual assistance in search and rescue at sea. They will regularly exchange information on safety at sea, especially for artisan fishing.
Development of Aquaculture
Liberia and Senegal will work to promote cooperation in the area of aquaculture through; exchange of scientific information and technics, organization of expert visits and producers, organization of conferences and training workshops and implementation of joint aquaculture project, according to the document.