Toward the Full Potential of Liberia’s Fisheries Sector

In her own words, Glassco envisions “the growth and development of the full potential of Liberia's fisheries and maritime sectors through mainstreaming her scientific knowledge, expertise and skills."

.... Emma Glassco on a mission to turn fisheries into Liberia’s next economic powerhouse

Emma Metieh-Glassco is no small fish — pun intended. But only those familiar with her work would know. In just over four years since she took the helm of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) as Director General and Chief Executive Officer, she has transformed the image of Liberia’s fisheries sector into a promising proposition for development and investment partners. 

It hasn’t always been this way, however. Over the last decade, the fisheries sector literally struggled with the idea of modernization. With donor support from key partners such as the World Bank, investments were made in Liberia for the building of fisheries facilities in Montserrado and Grand Cape Mount counties, as well as a system to monitor illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Liberian waters. 

But the potential of such facilities remained largely untapped for many years afterward. Those who were the primary beneficiaries of these infrastructures, Liberian fishermen and fishmongers (mostly women), had not upgraded their knowledge, practice and tools to meet the improvements brought by donors. 

Thus, many local fishermen felt they were being left behind, especially after an executive order, signed by then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, reduced the Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ) as established by the Fisheries Regulations of 2010 from 6 nautical miles to 3 nautical miles. The executive order allowed foreign trawlers to fish within Liberia’s six nautical miles. To the local fishermen, this was an act of encroachment on their already small fishing space. Because of their manually-operated paddle canoes, most of them could not venture into the deep sea compared to the sophisticated foreign trawlers. 

Given the unfair advantage the foreign trawlers had over local fishermen, Glassco sought to augment the capacities of the local fishermen and managed to secure 600 motorized outboard engines for them, with support from the Government of Japan. This opportunity was followed by training on maintenance of the engines, as well as safety programs for the fishermen at sea. Fishermen from across the nine coastal counties — Montserrado, Grand Kru, Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Sinoe, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Maryland, and Margibi — benefitted from this breakthrough program. 

Along with the motorized outboard engines, NaFAA provided the fishermen with environmentally friendly nets, in exchange for seine nets, which are bad for the marine environment. 

These and other innovative programs and improvements in the livelihoods of coastal dwellers have inspired the assistance of international partners such as the World Bank, the European Union, the Japanese Government and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), attracting more than US$88 million to the Liberian fisheries sector.

 These programs have provided both environmental and economic impact, such as the net exchange program, the paddle to engine program, the transition from wooden canoes to fiberglass boats, storage equipment such as solar freezers and fish handling equipment for women in Fisheries, construction of fish markets for fish mongers, and many more. 

In her own words, Glassco envisions “the growth and development of the full potential of Liberia's fisheries and maritime sectors through mainstreaming her scientific knowledge, expertise and skills; thereby enabling the sustainable exploitation of the sector's revenue generation capacity and support to the food security of the country.” 

Born unto the union of Dr. Paul C. Metieh, a retired Medical Doctor, and Mary Coleman Metieh, a retired Professor from the University of Liberia in Liberia, Emma Metieh-Glassco is an Ocean Governance expert with over eleven (11) years of professional experience working in the fisheries and maritime sectors of Liberia. She wanted to become a doctor, so she obtained her Bachelor of Science (BSc.) degree in Zoology from the University of Liberia, in 2011. 

She first got immersed in the fisheries sector in July 2012, a few months following her completion of undergraduate studies, when she took employment as a Fisheries Monitoring Center Officer with the West Africa Regional Fisheries Project-Liberia (WARFP), a World-Bank Sponsored Project of the then Bureau of National Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture.

During her five years’ service in this position, she monitored the movement of fishing vessels plying along the Liberian territorial waters, which helped in preventing illegal fishing activities and generated revenues for the government through fines, from vessels caught in illegal activities; as well as gather intelligence on fishing vessels operations and practices in West Africa and other regions including obtaining details of vessels (country flag, weight, gross tonnage, IMO number, etc.) that are suspected of IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) Fishing, thereby providing sufficient information for persecution by the government of Liberia.

In 2017, she obtained a Master of Science (MSc.) Degree in Maritime Affairs with particular emphasis on Ocean Sustainability, Governance, and Management from the World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations.

As part of extra-curricular activities during graduate studies, she established collegial relationships with her compeers which earned her the privilege of serving as President of the World Maritime University Women's Association (WMUWA) from October 2016 to November 2017.

Still determined to bag additional knowledge in the fisheries and maritime sectors, she completed Certificate programs in Ocean Governance & Sustainable Fisheries in October 2017 from the Australian University and Rhodes University in Australia and Mauritius respectively.  

On the basis of her concrete academic credentials, professional competence and personal skills, President George Manneh Weah reposed his explicit confidence in her, through a Presidential appointment in February 2018, appointing Glassco to the Office of Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), and was reappointed and confirmed by the Liberian Senate to serve a second mandate as the Director General. 

As Director General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NaFAA, she is charged with the mandate as enshrined in the Act establishing the Authority to regulate all fisheries and fisheries related activities, inclusive of aquaculture within the Republic of Liberia, and to maximize revenue generation thereby enabling an increased contribution to the National budget of the Republic of Liberia; as well as to establish and strengthen relations with international bodies aimed at attracting potential investments for the development of the fisheries sector. 

Before her appointment by President Weah, Glassco, upon her return from Graduate studies at the World Maritime University in Sweden, was hired by the NaFAA as Senior Fisheries Policy Analyst in 2017, with the primary responsibilities of formulating appropriate policies to address prevailing issues affecting the fisheries sector of the Country, effectively monitoring and evaluating the impact of policies that have been implemented or are being implemented, as well as providing the policy, legal and economic advice and assistance on investment and related matters in the fisheries sector of the Country, among other duties that were assigned her. 

She also worked as an Intern Researcher for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), in London, the United Kingdom in July 2017. While there, she assisted in the conduct of research, especially in data collection, compilation and analysis, and learned best international practices in combating Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing through a world-class Resource Center.

She acquainted herself with the work of the IMO in relation to the concept of Challenges caused by IUU Fishing offshore for Liberia's Fisheries based on a global review and analysis, as well as acquired practical knowledge of IMO instruments, in particular SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea), the IMBSBC Code (International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code) and the IMDG Code (International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code).

At NaFAA, Glassco has ensured Liberia’s full compliance with all international fisheries related protocols as well as maintains Liberia membership with International and regional Fisheries Management organizations.  In 2019, she ensured Liberia’s accession and subsequent ratification of the Port State Measure Agreement, a Legal Instrument of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organizations and has since been deposited at the Rome’s Office. She championed the cause for a stronger Fisheries Management and Development law in 2019 that was passed by the National Legislature and signed by the President, which led to the establishment of a New Fisheries Regulation and Policy for Liberia. 

Internationally, she has signed over 3 Bilateral agreements with countries such as Japan, Senegal, Ghana, Iceland, and Multilateral agreements such as International Whaling convention, the Cape Town Agreement, among others. These agreements have established confidence for investment in the Liberia fisheries sector. 

She is a strong advocate for women involvement in the Maritime sector, a male dominated sector. She has been very engaged with the International Maritime Organization, especially mainstreaming the inclusion of women in the Fisheries and Maritime Sectors. In 2019, she organized the local chapter of the Women In Maritime Africa (WIMAFRICA), Liberia Chapter, a regional women’s maritime body, where she served as its 1st President. 

In 2021, with the assistance of the African Union – Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), she established the Liberia Chapter of the African Women Fish Processors and Traders Network (AWFishNET), a continental organization of Women in Fish trade. The institution provides support to women in the fish trade across the continent and improves incomes for fish traders.