Nine out of Liberia’s 15 counties lie along 570 km of the Atlantic Ocean and small scale fishing provides a major source of income and nutrition for coastal communities, but the sector has been neglected by the government and donors during and since the country’s ruinous civil war.
“Donor support to the fisheries sector of Liberia has been minimal”, Winfred Hammond, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Country Director in Liberia told IRIN.
“As a result the sector has been largely marginalised from most development and food security debates and is absent from national planning processes,” he said.
Liberia’s Agriculture Minister Chris Toe told IRIN that fisheries currently account for around 3.2 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product, while providing jobs to some 31,000 people. Eighty percent of the country’s 3.2 million people depend directly on fish for protein, Toe said.
The ministry said that it has drawn up an action plan. “This plan is crucial to our economic recovery programs and is aimed at empowering our people where they can easily generate income… we know for sure that fishing is a major income and job creator,” Toe said.
Fishermen said they would appreciate the support. “The major problem we are confronting is that we do not have means of getting canoes and the fish we catch are manually processed through fish smoking on fire,” said Forkay Nyankon, a local fisherman in the southern Liberian costal town of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.
A livelihood survey conducted along Liberian fishing communities by the Ministry of Agriculture in January and February identified the lack of access to capital by fishermen as a main hindrance to developing the sector.
Statistics from Liberia’s Bureau of National Fisheries indicate a total of 13,000 fishermen and 18,000 fish processors and their families live in 139 coastal communities where they operate 3,500 canoes. Only 8 percent of those boats are motorised.
Another problem identified by fishermen is illegal fishing by foreign trawlers off Liberia’s coast, a phenomenon off most coastal West African countries.
According to the British-based Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), monitoring fish pirating in West Africa, Liberia loses US$10 million every year as a result.
Alhaji Jallow, senior fisheries officer at the FAO said Liberia has a weak monitoring, control and surveillance system.
“There are between 20 to 30 registered vessels licensed to operate in the Liberian water, but because of the lack of government capacity to patrol its coastline, we have received reports from small scale fishermen that dozens of foreign vessels operate illegally… mostly at night,” Jallow told IRIN.
“If there is no comprehensive program on monitoring the illegal poaching Liberia’s vital marine resources will be depleted,” he said.
Agriculture minister Toe told IRIN that the government has hired a private marine security firm for a sixty-day trial period to patrol the coastline against pirate fishing vessels.
“Since February, we have arrested two foreign vessels containing several tones of fish that were illegally fishing in our waters,” he said.