Media reports of a fisheries agreement signed between Liberia and Senegal granting fishing rights to 300 Senegalese fishing vessels to operate in Liberian waters has, as expected, generated public outcry against the agreement which is supposed to cover a five-year period. Sources at the Fisheries Authority confirm that the agreement may be a long ways off from being ratified by the Legislature as required by law. However, some legal analysts suggest that the agreement violates Article 7 of the Liberian Constitution.
Article 7 of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia prescribes that “the Republic shall manage the natural resources of Liberia to advance the general welfare of the Liberian people and the economic development of Liberia”.
While the agreement is pending ratification, it would do our legislators well, were they not to ratify the agreement simply because, from all indications, this is a lopsided agreement that holds no promise for the Liberian people. Liberia, currently the world’s second largest international ship registry, does not have the capacity to monitor the over 100 fishing vessels registered under its flag.
In May 2017, Liberia was sternly warned by the European Union to tighten its screws against illegal fishing, being the second biggest ship registry in the world with over 100 fishing vessels registered under its flag.
According to the EU, the national fisheries authorities do not have the information or means to control fleets registered under its flag. Yet, at least, one would expect that government would develop regulatory measures within the scope of an appropriate policy environment which could help enhance proper control of fishing activities by foreign vessels in Liberian waters.
In consequence of this glaring lack of proper control over foreign fishing vessels the EU led to the placing of a Liberian registered fishing vessel on the international black list. Under the terms of this agreement, artisanal fishing vessels will be coming from faraway Senegal to fish in Liberian waters and will be competing with local fishermen.
This situation has grave implications for the health and nutrition of Liberian children who stand to suffer the most from the effects of protein deficiency. It means most Liberian families, especially those living in and around coastal areas that depend on fish to meet their daily protein needs, will experience great difficulty in accessing fish simply because fish will be scarce and more expensive as a result of the invasion of foreign fishing vessels..
Senegal’s closest neighbor, the Gambia, is rich in fish resources. Even next door Guinea, with who Senegal shares common borders is also rich in fish resources or better still its neighbor to the north, Mauritania, is also rich in fish stocks. So just why the Senegalese are coming and are being allowed to fish here in our waters when they can easily access fish from their neighbors? The answer is because only Liberia, it appears, is willing to allow such naked and callous exploitation of its people by foreigners.
This newspaper must however, for the record, point out that this very level of callousness and gross disregard of the Liberian people was demonstrated by the administration of former President Sirleaf issued Executive Order 84 which granted foreign fishing vessels to fish within just six miles offshore.
At the time, It was generally perceived that hefty bribes were paid to government officials, possibly including President Sirleaf herself, as inducement to secure that kind of lopsided arrangement that bore no promise for the people.
In the grand scheme of things, the Bureau of Fisheries, historically and traditionally under the Ministry of Agriculture was transferred to the Maritime Authority. According to observers at the time, this was a move carefully contrived to ensure that kickbacks were paid to a single source.
Sadly, the George Weah administration appears to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor, during whose tenure over sixty bogus concession agreements that bore no promise for the Liberian people were signed into law and corruption flourished.
Under president Sirleaf’s leadership, millions of dollars were said to have been stolen from the country’s coffers by her officials, including her son Robert, under whose charge 50 million US dollars owned by the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) was virtually stolen. She would later declare that she took responsibility yet she never ever refunded the money.
But as the common saying goes ”Monkey See, Monkey Do”. If the fishing limits for foreign vessels operating in Liberian waters could be reduced, allowing foreign vessels to fish just within six miles offshore, then why cannot President Weah allow Senegalese vessels to operate in similar fashion? That is the unanswered question.
Just why would this government sign an agreement that grants foreign vessels to harvest 100,000 metric tons of fish in a single year, simply beats the imagination especially in face of rising prices of fish on the local market suggesting its near scarcity.
The proposed agreement (not yet ratified by the legislature) bears little or no promise for Liberia and must therefore not be ratified by the Legislature. DO NOT RATIFY THE PROPOSED LIBERIA-SENEGAL FISHERIES AGREEMENT