A community science project intended to manage sharks and rays in Liberia is expected to begin shortly in the country. The project aims to expand from Monrovia to Robertsport. Other locations will include Buchanan, Harper and Marshall.
The project is in collaboration with the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NAFAA). In a press release issued on Wednesday, the project will train local people to gather key information on Liberia’s shark and ray populations. This will give citizens the opportunity to benefit from plans to improve fisheries sustainability in the country.
According to the press release, sharks and rays play a big role in the health of many marine habitats. Loss of sharks can lead to dramatic imbalances in the ecosystem, causing the degradation of coral reefs and destruction of the environment, which provide important nursery habitats for young fish.
“This is particularly important in Liberia, where 33,000 people rely on the fishing industry for their livelihoods, and 65% of all animal protein eaten comes from seafood,” The release noted.
The press statement also said sharks and rays are vulnerable to over-fishing because they tend to grow slowly, reach sexual maturity late and have low rates of reproduction.
Although routinely fished, in Liberia sharks and rays lack any form of legal protection. This could have real implications for the coastal communities that rely on healthy marine ecosystems to provide food.
Meanwhile, Amdeep Sanghera, EJF’s coordinator for the project, said in a press statement that “We do not know if sharks and rays in Liberia are in trouble.”
He also pointed out that there is very little information, in some cases none at all, on sharks and rays populations and on how they are being affected. He noted that there is an urgent need to gather crucial data that can support sustainable management.
The project coordinator also stated that this is why they are excited about working with the Liberian government’s NAFAA and fishing communities, to try and secure a brighter future for sharks and rays in the country.
The EJF has been working to identify and measure the sharks and rays being landed at West Point and in Robertsport since 2013. Building on that success, the project is being expanded to new locations in Buchanan, Harper and Marshall.
Emma M. Glassco, Director General of NAFAA, said: “Sharks and rays are important for the health of the marine ecosystems that support local fishing communities.” She added that “With a new government in place in Liberia, we have the chance to make a fresh start, taking an ecosystem approach that provides the best possible solution for both local people and marine wildlife.”
She further stated that it is a long-term participatory project, where citizens will have the opportunity to benefit from management measures. This will ensure citizens reflect their needs, as well as the needs of sharks and rays.
Sharks and rays are in one of two sub-classes of cartilaginous fish (their skeletons are made of cartilage). They can be found in the sub-class Elasmobranchii that contains around 1,000 species. This can be classified in about 400 species of sharks and 600 species of rays.
Presently, EJF is working to build local capacity among a new generation of ocean defenders. The organization aims to harness local strengths, expertise and skills and to give recognition to the local individuals and communities who are taking a lead on protecting their natural world.
EJF is also working globally to protect endangered sharks.