What Happened to the West African Fisheries Project?

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About three years ago the West African Fisheries Project, based in Dakar, Senegal, was launched. Liberia was one of its beneficiaries.

Modern fishing depots were to have been built in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County, Buchanan, Grand Bassa County and in the second phase, in other coastal counties such as Montserrado, Sinoe, Maryland and Rivercess. What happened to these depots?

The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), under Minister Florence Chenoweth’s watch, had oversight of the project. But how much oversight was exercised? Or has this become another opportunity, well financed by the World Bank, missed? When will we cease to squander the many golden opportunities that come our way?

The West Africa Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP) approached the Daily Observer years ago and asked that we appoint one reporter to cover the project. We appointed our Environmental Correspondent Edwin Fayia to the task. But Edwin frequently complained that neither the project managers in Liberia nor the MOA took the project seriously, though funding was not a problem.

The new Agriculture Minister, Moses Zinnah, needs to commission a serious investigation of this project to determine its status and how it can be salvaged so that our fishermen may get a break by benefitting from this initiative designed to bring modern fishing to Liberia.

Correspondent Fayia visited one of the fishing depots under construction in Robertsport. He found the project stalled, due to the slow pace of work by a Lebanese company which was assigned to do the road construction around the site and fence the entire area. Unfortunately, Mr. Fayia could not find any of this company’s officials or even workers on the site.

The question is why is this project which has adequate funding not yet completed nearly three years after it was started? The totally unnecessary delay has apparently been due to a lack of focus on the part of the office primarily in charge of the project, the MOA—and that was mainly under Minister Chenoweth’s watch.

Minister Zinnah is now called to take the bull by the horns and demand that the Lebanese company contracted to do the road works and fencing proceed immediately with the work, so that this project will be completed before the end of 2016. Dr. Zinnah, we will be watching. Our correspondent will be paying another visit to Robertsport within the next two weeks to assess the progress.

The fishing project should have included the monitoring of our coastal waters to eliminate or limit illegal fishing that causes Liberia and the other 29 coastal African nations to lose over a billion United States dollars annually.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan’s African Progress Panel (APP) recently helped engineer the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which aims to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels that have long robbed Africa’s rich coastal waters with impunity.

The APP, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other partners, facilitated the PSMA Agreement at the FAO headquarters in the Rome, Italy on July 11 this year. The Treaty is aimed at enabling coastal countries to close their ports to vessels engaged in illegal fishing and preventing their catches from entering international markets.

A few years ago the MOA boasted that it had successfully caught and arrested some illegal fishing boats operating in Liberian waters and brought them to the Free Port of Monrovia. They were heavily fined and all catches confiscated.

What has happened to the Liberia Maritime Authority’s coastal monitoring initiative? Where is the Liberian National Coast Guard in all this? They were recently given some tugboats by the United States government. Is the Coast Guard equipped to undertake an effective monitoring of our 350-mile coastline?

The Daily Observer’s Defense Correspondent C.Y. Kwanue is shortly to visit the Defense Ministry and the Liberia Maritime Authority to seek answers to these questions.

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