International DevelopmentNews

Depleting Liberia’s Fish Stock: “If You Can’t Help Us Don’t Harm Us”

Despite the quasi-financial compensation Liberia believes it is receiving via aid for training, the fishery accord signed between the Republic of Liberia and the Republic of Senegal does not contribute to any meaningful development in Liberia.

The reason is quite simple – these are commercial enterprises – not development agreements. Hence, this agreement will offer tremendous benefit and support only to the people of Senegal, leaving Liberia, once again, treading in the wrong direction on the food insecurity chain.

Like Liberia, Senegal sits off the west coast of Africa bordering the North Atlantic Ocean. Due to over fishing, the country has depleted its fishing resources and has resulted in fights with Mauritania and neighboring countries for fresh fish.

According to the United Nations, over half of Senegal’s 15 million people are multidimensional poor – a measure of deprivation in health, education and the standard of living. Moreover, as of August 2018, an estimated 751,000 Senegalese faced Crisis (Phase 3) or worse level of acute food insecurity.  

The fishery agreement with Liberia was signed on January 22, 2019, at the Senegalese Ministry of Fisheries in Diamniadio, in the presence of Mr. Oumar Gueye and his Liberian counterpart Ms. Emma Metieh Glassco, Liberia’s Director General of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority.

In her 2017 Dissertation titled Challenges caused by IUU fishing in the offshore: lessons for Liberia’s fisheries based on a global review and analysis” Madam Emma Glasco wrote the following:

“In Liberia, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fishing activities are undermining national growth resulting in a socio-economic crisis. The country sustains an economic loss of $75 million annually caused by IUU fishing activities. As a result, 49% of the population is faced with food insecurity and thousands of local fishermen are displaced from a way of life that has existed for years.”

Madam Glassco research shows that 49% of Liberia’s population faces food insecurity as a direct result of fisheries agreements that do not benefit Liberians – similar to the one she signed on behalf of the Republic of Liberia.

She went on further in her research by quoting Subah (2010), stating

“The main foreign vessels engaged in illegal fishing activities in Liberia’s EEZ are trawlers from China, Korea, Spain, Portugal and Greece along with a few large motorized canoes from Senegal and Ivory Coast.”

She listed Senegal as a prime suspect and a country that should not be trusted to fish in the territorial waters of Liberia. Yet she is signing an agreement with the very same Senegal who is notorious for illegal fishing.

Over-fishing by Senegal Destroys Livelihoods

Decades of over fishing by Senegalese fishermen have essentially crippled their once impressive artisanal fishing industries which the country has relied on to nourish itself. Other African countries have begun turning away fishing agreements from Senegal due to the risk of over-fishing.

In July 2018, a fishing accord between Senegal and Mauritania fell apart when Mauritania coastguards shot and killed a young Senegalese fisherman for overfishing in the waters off Mauritania.

It appears Liberia’s fishing industry has been under tremendous attack from the country’s leaders, beginning with former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and now President George Weah. While Change was the battle cry for George Weah’s CDC, Liberians are seeing the same patterns or sometimes cruel behaviors and decisions from President Weah like they did with Johnson-Sirleaf.

In 2017, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf issued Executive Order no. 84 which called for reducing Liberia’s Inshore Exclusive Zone from six nautical miles to three. By May 2017, the European Union slammed President Sirleaf . Stating, “Based on experience in other countries and beyond we have reason to believe that some of the measures introduced under Section 2 of the EO will not lead to sustainable investments, but rather to the accelerated depletion of current fish stocks, resulting in reduced economic opportunities in the sector and increased food insecurity.”

“If You Can’t Help Us Don’t Harm Us”

The agreement signed by George Weah’s administration shows the callousness, ignorance, and insensitivity to Liberians. It further goes contrary to the US$3.1 million grant agreement signed during Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration with Iceland to support Liberia’s fishery sector. The Agreement with Iceland was designed to improve and strengthen Liberia’s fishery sector which had been underdeveloped.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a crisis in West Africa, especially in Liberia where several species are being driven towards extinction while jeopardizing the livelihoods of local fishing communities. The new accord signed by President Weah will have a devastating impact on the 37,000 people employed in the small-scale fishing sector many of whom are former combatants and supporters of President Weah.

It is time that Liberia’s legislators stand up and speak out against the ills and misinformed decisions being rendered by Liberia’s Executive branch – lest the country continues to spiral downward under the misguided and dictatorial rule of former footballer George Weah.

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Dr. Joseph Nimene, Sr.

Dr. Nimene is a research scientist and development specialist at a global development organization in West Africa. He is engaged in understanding the impact of public policies and development priorities in countries emerging from civil conflict along with the challenges faced by underdeveloped countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Nimene is a staunch advocate on issues relating to press freedom, and he supports the efforts of Globe Afrique where the voices of the citizens are heard.
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