Liberian Artisanal Fishing Community Unsure of Its Future

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“Fishery is our life and we will not sit dormant and watch government play on us this way.” Jerry Blamo

By George Harris

Enoch Morris, 45 years old artisanal fisherman, has earned himself a reputable status among his fellow fishermen on the King’s Grave Beach in Paynesville. Through his trade, Enoch has built himself a house that was his youthful dream.

Enoch said: “Living in my own house at this phase of the economy is a great achievement for me because I have escaped extra expenses that some of my colleagues are going through. It takes a lot to rent a room or a whole house right now and some of my colleagues are paying a lot to just to have a place for their families to sleep.”

Enoch happily lives in his four-bedroom dream house along with twelve relatives including his wife and four children. Enoch uses money that he make from his catch to sponsor his children education and he also provides other home necessities for his relatives that are staying with him.

Since his early fishing years in the nineties, Enoch has benefited from good catch seasons but he has also been a victim of horrible catch seasons as he recalled industrial fishing vessels destroying his fishing gears and bullying artisanal fishermen including him.

“Dirt in the ocean makes it difficult for good catch, and moreover, trawlers vessels destroy our nets when they come across it on sea. When these boats are fishing close to the shore, we alarm them about our nets but they tell us in a disrespectful manner to go to the fishing bureau. This is painful because some days we are left with nothing and even our lives are at risk, because trawling vessels drag our nets including us,” said Enoch.

Climate change is another issue affecting fishing activities around the globe as it threatens the biological, ecological, social and economic factors of fishery. This has resulted to the introduction of revised measures from agricultural and environmental organizations that are expected to withstand climate change attack on marine lives.

However, Enoch quest for appropriate action by government to create a safe fishing environment, seem impossible as Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf through Executive Order No.84 reduces the Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ) from six nautical miles to three nautical miles.

According to President Sirleaf the reduction is meant to attract investment and trade in the industrial and semi-industrial areas of the fishery sector. It is believe that the reduction in the Inshore Exclusive Zone was based on the record of low income generated form the sector over the years but delegate government authority has not spoken about such speculation.

Furthermore, Order granted the Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA) a supervisory oversight and fiscal authority over the Bureau of National Fisheries pending the enactment of the National Fisheries Act. The Bureau of National Fisheries under its new supervisory arm will issue and publish revised guidelines and fiscal regime for obtaining fishery license.

dsc_00461However, the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association said that the Executive Order’s goals are not in the interest of Liberian artisanal fishermen. The association’s Secretary General, Jerry Blamo said the reduction of the Inshore Exclusive Zone would cause economic hardship for artisanal fishermen and their families.

“The Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ) that is reserved for the marine protection would be abused by trawlers and this will not mean well for artisanal fishermen and mongers families especially women. Trawlers care less about sea conservation and they will sweep and destroy everything in our waters, leaving us with little to benefit from in the near future,” said Blamo.

The Association (LAFA) said that the Order execution must be halted until a dialogue is arrange between the government and the artisanal’s fishery community.

“Fishery is our life and we will not sit dormant and watch government play on us this way. We have planned a nationwide nonviolent protest, we will boycott the election and halt artisanal fishing activities around the country; these steps will make government officials know that we are also citizens,” Said Jerry Blamo.

Also the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) a UK-based NGO condemned the President’s Sirleaf Executive Order. EJF believes that the decision to reduce the Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ) would undermine Liberia’s food security and the livelihood of Liberian fishermen.

“By removing the six nautical miles’ limit, the Liberian government is favoring short-term economic interests over the needs of its people. The limit underpins the sustainability of the fisheries that provide vital food, livelihoods and incomes for hundreds of thousands of Liberians. Removing it threatens the very survival of these fisheries, and the well-being of all those who depend on them,” said Steve Trent, EJF Executive Director.

dsc_00301However, industrial fishermen under the umbrella of the United Seamen and General Post Workers of Liberia believes that Executive Order’s goals would create more jobs in the fishery sector. Samuel Siaffa, President of the Fishery Section under the Union said: “The reduction of the nautical miles will promote a win-win environment and it is a great way to encourage vessels back into our territorial waters that will create jobs for all fishermen including artisanal fishermen.

“Before, under the six nautical miles regulation, registered fishing vessels on Liberian water were victims of the six nautical miles which had negative effects on the industrial fishery community’s labor force and other actors in the sector.

“Telling vessels to go six nautical miles means that you are sending them far away from where they are not sure of a worthy catch and as a result, vessels complain of spending more on fuel with catches less than what they projected,” Siaffa narrated.

Despite Executive Order #84’s goals to make the fishery industry viable again, information on landing sites by artisanal and industrial fishing boats, catch data of artisanal and industrial vessels, controlling the type and size of fishing gear used are some technical challenges expecting to be addressed.

Moreover, the National Investment Commission (NIC) assessment on aquaculture investment revealed that there are 37,000 Liberians engaged in artisanal fishing within 114 fishing communities together with 12 registered marine fish cooperatives on the country’s 20,000 sq km coastline and continental shelf.

According to the report marine vessels has produce an estimation of 8,000 tons per year while Liberia consumes 23,800 tons per year. The assessment further that marine vessels average income to the sector is US$66,700 per year.

In the exercise of the Executive Power vested in the President by the Liberian Constitution, the President may issue Executive Orders in the public interests, either to meet exigencies or address a particular situation which cannot await lengthy legislative processes.

The Executive Order 84 is effective only for a year and its extension may depend on the next elected democratic government but for the meantime many Liberians are unhappy of the decision of the president to issue an order in a sector that it has not provided effective control and support.

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