Angry and disappointed members of the Senate yesterday voted unanimously to mandate their respective committees to investigate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Executive Order 84, which reduces the country’s Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ) from six nautical miles to three.
The Senators did not mince their words when they described the President’s reported action as “ill-calculated and unnecessary.”
“Besides the fact that such is going to put our fishermen at the mercy of international fishing companies, one wonders what benefit the country stands to gain, not forgetting of course, the security implication,” Senate chairman on Security, Intelligence and Veterans Affair Stephen Zargo said during a brief debate.
The Senators also wondered why the President decided to remove the Bureau of Fisheries, which was created by an Act, and placed it under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs (LMA), an institution whose mandates are restricted to ships flying the Liberian flag.
“If the Bureau of Fisheries was created by law and received the passage blessing of the Legislature, the President has no right to issue an Executive Order. We have to tell her so that firstly our legal people will do the investigation and advise us,” Sinoe County Senator (Cllr.) Joseph Nagbe said.
The Senate’s action was prompted by a communication from its Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, headed by Grand Kru County Senator Albert Tugbe Chie, in which he requested Plenary to mandate its relevant committees to investigate the issue of the reduction of Liberia’s Inshore Exclusive Zone and the transfer of the oversight of the fisheries sector from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) to the LMA.
“It is currently being argued that this action, when enforced, will shrink by 50 percent the area reserved for small scale Liberian fishermen, put them out of business, and will severely impact the livelihoods of these fishermen and their dependents,” Senator Chie noted in his May 22 communication. He added that many experts believe the reduction of the IEZ will greatly benefit foreign industrial fishermen, leading to over exploitation of Liberia’s near-shore fish resources, negatively impact food security, “and will be counter-productive to the growth of the Liberian economy.”
According to the Grand Kru County lawmaker, “some of Liberia’s international partners, such as the European Union (EU), have criticized the move by the Executive Branch of Government, citing its cooperation with Liberia through the EU-Liberia Sustainable Partnership Agreement to promote responsible fishing as enshrined in the FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing.”
The communication was sent to the Committees on Agriculture, Judiciary, Security, Lands, Mines, and Energy, and Maritime to report within one week.