Why Is Our Fisheries Sector Too Weak? Ay! What’s Wrong With Us?

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Why is almost every sector in Liberia weak—the most critical being the Education sector, which President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf herself has confessed “is in a mess”?

There is also our road network. Quite recently the highway leading to the southeast was cut in half, imperiling travel to a major sub-region of the country leading to La Cote d’Ivoire. One wonders whether Public Works knows about the huge ditch at the intersection of the Paynesville and GSA Roads, which is close to being cut in half; and that motorists and pedestrians, mostly marketers and customers at the Red Light Market, have to wade through several inches of water and mud before reaching Coca Cola Factory.

There is also the power crisis—the country is still not covered with electricity, but thankfully the rehabilitation of the Mount Coffee Hydro is on stream; but the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) complains of power theft everywhere, undermining its limited capacity. With all our rivers throughout the country, what has kept us from developing more mini-hydro stations?

There is also the problem with water and sanitation, areas in which there is much is to be desired.

Now, closer to the fisheries problem is the agricultural crisis—we are still importing fruits and vegetables from neighboring countries; and most of the meat we eat—beef, despite the many places around the country which are natural habitats for cattle; and poultry, which is so easily grown anywhere in Liberia and; of course, the big one, rice, which most of our rural farmers know how to grow but need assistance. We spend over US$200 annually importing rice.

Why, after all these years, we are still unable to be self-sufficient in our staple food?

And now to fisheries! Here again, we have ignored or misused the wonderful blessings the good Lord has given us—all these rivers and streams throughout the country, most of which grow fish; then the great Atlantic Ocean, where we can find anything from massively-sized Cuta, Cassava Fish, Cat Fish Cavala, Grouper (which we call “Grapor”), Pike and Snapper to the tiny Barpleh. The Atlantic also richly endows us with shell fish, including huge crabs and lobsters! What more do we need?

But many of our neighbors, including little Gambia, have modern fishing depots in many places. Yet today, we who should have led the way in modern fisheries are far behind. Why has it taken us so long?

Why did Vice President Joseph N. Boakai have to tell the world last Wednesday, at the launch of the World Bank-funded Mesurado Industrial Fishery Terminal, that the Liberian fisheries sector suffered “weak enforcement of fishery regulations and the lack of a functional fisheries monitoring surveillance and control system”?

A surveillance control system is absolutely necessary, because the lack of it causes Liberia to lose millions of dollars each year in fish stolen from our waters.

This is certainly not because we did not have the experience. We all remember a company called Mesurado, the fishing giant run by Steve Tolbert’s Mesurado Group of Companies. It was the first company to supply fish to many parts of the interior, transported in refrigerated trucks.

Mesurado also shipped shrimps to many parts of the world, especially Japan. Mr. Tolbert had scores of women dressed in white gowns, boots and headgear, on their feet several hours daily, cleaning shrimps for export.

But the 1980 coup changed all that, and from that point Mesurado went downhill. There were many other reasons for this, not just the coup.

Since the 1980s only a few Liberians have entered the fishing business. Soon it, too, in addition to all the other commercial activities, became to domain of Lebanese merchants.

A few years ago the Dakar, Senegal-based West African Regional Fisheries Program (WARFP) decided to undertake and support a project in Liberia. The aim was to build several fishery depots, equipped with freezers, in decent places where people could purchase fish and other sea products. But up until now the first depot, being constructed in Grand Cape Mount County, is still incomplete.

This is clearly due to the lack of focus and oversight by the Ministry of Agriculture, which is closely linked to the project.

Now the World Bank has pumped in a US$7 million grant to build a fishery terminal at the Free Port of Monrovia. We hope and pray that the Cape Mount project will be expeditiously completed, in order to serve as an impetus to the success of this new venture at the Free Port.

The whys being asked in this Editorial about the lack of progress in Liberian fisheries are due primarily to three problems: first, our lack of focus; second, the lackadaisical attitude of many of the people in government; and third, selfishness—people putting themselves before the projects, seeking to know what they can get out of it for themselves.

The new Agriculture Minister, Dr. Moses Zinnah, we are sure, realizes that this World Bank-funded project is the first foreign-funded one under his watch. We urge him to watch it very closely and ensure that it is completed within the year, and that all the promises it brings will be fulfilled.

We hope also that the new Minister can push the Cape Mount project to completion within the next three months and hasten the successful completion of the Free Port project.

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