“You don’t give groundnuts to rats for safe keeping”…My Grandmother
“You don’t live by the river but wash your hands with spittle….Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart”
All Sierra Leoneans should listen to the popular song “King Jimmy Bonga Sweet” to realise what we are missing. All those fishes named in that song were once abundant in our waters and graced our pots.
Today, the most popular fish left for Sierra Leoneans is just the ordinary herring. The good fishes like tuna, mackerel, barracuda and shrimps are taken to Guinea, Liberia, Senegal and sold in US dollars.
I live in a Wharf Community where Fishermen have abandoned their boats to rot at the wharf. Some have been there for weeks without movement because the fishermen say their catch is not encouraging these days.
Most Chinese and Korean vessels are arrested for infringements on Sierra Leonean fishing legislations, including possessing or using illegal fishing nets on board, and a lack of required paper work.
Sadly the penalties are not sufficient enough to deter illegal activity in the future. All the Government does is fine the culprits an amount of money and they pay. That’s the problem. They always have money to pay when they are caught. We need tougher penalties like prosecution to be levied.
Our fishing regulations have long been weak, or even non-existent, and foreign vessels have been active in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for decades. Even with the help of marine and food organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), nothing has changed.
Sierra Leone signed the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, commonly called the Port State Measures Agreement, or the PSMA in October 2009. The Agreement, which entered into force in June 2016, requires parties to enforce better management of foreign vessels at port in order to reduce instances of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
However, Government authorities seem to just accept that the fishing business these days is unequal.
Greenpeace notes that the Chinese are the biggest players with more than 300 fishing vessels in the region. Most of them are trawlers, including bottom trawlers, notorious for perpetrating one of the most destructive, industrial fishing methods in the world.
There is also an increase of fish caught for fishmeal purposes only to feed pigs and other animals on the other side of the world. Europe is the second biggest, foreign player in West African waters with over 100 fishing vessels from the European Union as well as some vessels from Russia.
Like the Chinese, many of these fleets are bottom trawlers, but large super trawlers catching huge amounts of small, pelagic fish like sardine, sardinella, and horse mackerel are also well represented.
It is estimated that fish products worth 874 million Euros were imported in 2017 from West African countries including Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo, to EU countries. This is threatening biodiversity and food security for the West African population.
The EU has a great responsibility as the second biggest player in West African waters and must take the most progressive position in their foreign fishing policy, Greenpeace says.
I think with this new national plan and budget there is a glimmer of hope but the foreign vessels have US dollars to pay their way in and out easily. Can we fight rich boat owners who are using dollars to pay their way through?
We need to tread cautiously