From the look of things, major international actors may likely find themselves in turf battles over fishing rights in Liberian territorial waters, all at the detriment and disadvantage of the Liberian nation and people. The major actors are the European Union and the People’s Republic of China. Of lesser contention is the Republic of Senegal.
It remains unclear whether the Government of China has signed any fishing agreement with the Government of Liberia. What is clear is that the Liberian government under the then leadership of President Sirleaf signed a fishing partnership agreement with the European Union on December 9, 2015. She even went further by signing an Executive Order granting foreign predatory commercial interests to fish within 6 miles offshore
Under the terms of the partnership agreement with the EU, 26 purse seiners and 6 surface long-line vessels to fish for tuna and tuna like species in Liberian waters based on a reference tonnage of 6,500 tonnes. Purse seiners are fishing vessels with large draw nets that are dragged on the bottom of the ocean floor scooping up every living thing in reach.
In return for this the EU will pay Liberia an average annual compensation package of 650,000 euros out of which 50 percent will be applied to fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance capacity as well as support to the fisheries policy of Liberia. Those EU countries with primary interests in this venture are Spain and France.
More to that, each vessel will be required to pay 55 euros for each ton of tuna caught during the first year of the 5-year agreement. In the 2nd and 3rd years, 60 euros will be paid for each ton of fish caught. In the 4th year 65 euros for each ton of fish caught and in the 5th year, 70 euros for each ton of fish caught.
Going by the above it means that in the first year, a harvest of 6,500 tons will yield to the Liberian government a total of 357,500 euros. This times 32, the total number of vessels yields 11,440,00 euros. This is a 5-year renewable agreement.
It appears however that Liberia has been shortchanged in the process considering the hefty price per pound that tuna fetches in global markets in Europe and southeast Asia in particular. For example the Southern Bluefin Tuna is highly prized in Japan, the USA and China and the price ranges between US$3.84 to US$20.46/lb. It is a gourmet food that is in hot demand for sushi and sashimi and according to renowned chefs, its medium flavor flesh is the best raw fish to eat.
This species of fish is however said to be threatened with extinction due to overfishing. And Liberia’s territorial waters rich in a wide variety of fish stocks has now become prey to predatory fishing vessels and unfair fishing agreements which are themselves predatory in nature.
And as if the unfair EU agreement was not enough, the Government of Liberia on January 22, 2019 entered into another predatory fishery agreement with the Government of Senegal that granted the legal right to 300 Senegalese vessels to fish in Liberian territorial waters. The move has since been widely condemned by the public.
What this shows is that Liberian officials have been complicit in the signing of unfair agreements to the detriment of the Liberian people. The Moore-Stephens report indicating that 64 out of 66 concession agreements signed under President did not meet the mark of transparency is instructive.
Such appears to have been the case with fisheries partnership agreement signed with the EU which can be rightly called an example of unfair trade practices.
In the conduct of business an act is unfair when it meets the following criteria:
- It causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers.
- It cannot be reasonably avoided by consumers.
- It is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to the competition.
Going by this definition, such unfair agreements are likely to cause and are causing substantial harm to Liberia’s marine environment with the use of drag/scoop fishing nets. Additionally, the activities of these predatory fishing have caused shortages and occasioned steep prices rise. Further, they have undermined the ability of artisanal fishermen to successfully fish in their own territorial waters.
Moreover, the agreements are characterized by deception as reflected in the fisheries agreement which does not state the market value of the fish to be harvested. Instead they only state the amount of tons of fish to be harvested and the price(55 euros) to be paid per ton.
In business, an act or practice is deceptive if it meets the following criteria:
- A representation, omission, or practice misleads or is likely to mislead the consumer.
- A consumer’s interpretation of the representation, omission, or practice is considered reasonable under the circumstances.
- The misleading representation, omission, or practice is material.
Going by this definition, it appears rather apparent that those fisheries agreements including the EU fisheries partnership agreement are not only predatory, they deceptive and above all they are unfair. This will become all the more apparent in the days ahead as the turf war between free ranging Chinese fishing vessels, Eu fishing vessels and Senegalese fishing vessels heats up.
Fish, an important protein supplement, which was once abundantly available on the local market at bargain prices, is no longer so. There is scarcity and the prices of fish has gone up.
This means that the required protein needs for most families, especially in Monrovia, are not being met, quite unlike in previous years. In turn this means increased pressure on Liberia’s wild life (bush meat) as protein source which is highly non-sustainable. Our leaders should take note that Liberia cannot continue to be a “hobo joe” for every for every happy-go-lucky predator. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!