The reduction by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, through Executive Order No. 84, of Liberia’s nautical zone from six miles to three is her final blow to Liberia’s hapless fishermen.
Why do we say “final blow”? The answer is found in another question: What has this administration done for our fishermen in its 11 years and five months in office? Remember that our development partners, our poor development partners, keep wondering what has happened to all the aid they have given to the agriculture sector, especially to build several fishing depots or fishing landing sites along our fish-rich 350-mile coastline. These fishing depots were meant to train our fishermen in better and more productive fishing, help them to preserve and secure their catches and make easier the marketing of their fish.
Alas, after many years since millions of dollars were allocated for this most highly promising sector, not a single fishing depot has yet been completed. This newspaper, Daily Observer, has over many years constantly appealed to the past two Agriculture Ministers, Doctors Florence Chenoweth and Moses Zinnah, to act expeditiously to ensure that these fishing depots, for which money is already available, are completed, in order to give our fishermen a new lease on life. But nine years have passed and not a single fishing depot has been completed. How long must it take for a single fishing landing site to be built? It definitely should not take more than nine months to a year. But in this our beleaguered (struggling, longsuffering) country, look how long it has taken, and Heaven knows when one will be finished and turned over for use.
Now the government has given our fishermen another raw deal, which is bound not only to frustrate them, but to rob them of fishing in their own God-given waters. The Executive Order reduces Liberia’s nautical miles to three, down from six, surrendering the three to foreign fishermen, known as “industrial fishermen,” with their far more powerful fishing boats, against which Liberian fishermen cannot possibly compete.
A justification for this is that foreign fishermen have larger and more powerful fishing boats and that their catches would reduce the local cost of fish. How do we know that? For once we surrender our fishing to foreigners, would they not turn around and overcharge the dependent Liberians for their own fish?
Why must our government insist on maintaining this dependency syndrome, which has bedeviled us for so long? Why could not our government empower our fishermen with the capacity to acquire their own large fishing boats that would make them more efficient and more competitive? Why must we ALWAYS have to depend on other people for everything? Is it not bad enough that we are already almost totally food-dependent, from our staple, rice, to most of the other foodstuff we consume, including fruits and vegetables? Now, even though God has given us 350 miles of coastline and the capacity to catch all the fish we need from our huge portion of the great Atlantic Ocean, here we are surrendering it to foreigners and making us more food-dependent.
We have noted that the United Post and General Workers Union (USPWU) – Fisheries Section supports Executive Order 84. But this union is concerned about finding work for their members, despite the fact that there is no evidence of how many Liberians these so-called industrial fishermen will employ. More besides, the USPWU has failed to consider the larger implications of the tragic extension of Liberia’s food dependency.
Here are most Liberian children lacking in protein, which is vitally needed for their health, their growth and development, and here we are about to give away to foreigners the lion’s share of our fishing rights.
Why, why, we ask, have the Liberian government and its Agriculture Ministry not given robust encouragement to Mrs. Estelle Liberty, who has been trying singlehandedly to grow fish in ponds in Bong and other counties? The government could have lent a helping hand to Estelle and empowered her to expand her great initiative throughout Bong and into other counties. But no—our shortsighted, unfocused and woefully ineffective Agriculture Ministers do not know how to seize a good opportunity and turn it into something profitable for the country and people.
All we can say now is that the new Agriculture Minister, Madame Seklau Wiles, who is herself an animal husbandry expert, will see the need to give a boost to the fishpond industry and save Liberian children, most especially the millions of them upcountry, from protein deficiency.
We think it may be unrealistic for this newly appointed Agriculture Minister to change her boss’ mind about Executive Order 84. We know not whether, but we pray that Madam Wiles does have, the nerve to call a spade a spade.
One last thing: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that Ghana has a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles, a contiguous zone of 24 nautical miles and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covering an area of 225,000 kilometers.
Does this teach us anything?