The Government of Liberia has passed an Executive Order which will see its Inshore Exclusion Zone, reserved for artisanal fishermen, halved from six to three nautical miles.
The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) says the move will increase competition from foreign industrial vessels which would export their catch overseas. This will mean a drop in the levels of fish being supplied to Liberia and an increase in food prices.
Currently, 65 percent of Liberia’s animal protein comes from the fishing sector and some 80 percent of the population depends on cheap fish for their main source of protein intake according to the World Food Programme. Much of this fish comes from artisanal fleets.
According to the Global Hunger Index, 31.9 percent of Liberia’s population is classified as undernourished, while 16 percent of families are classed as food insecure by the World Food Programme. The World Food Programme also found that 83 percent of the population live on less than $1.25 a day.
According to the Bureau of National Fisheries, there are approximately 3,300 canoes and more than 11,000 fishers operating from 114 fish landing sites along Liberia’s 580 kilometer (360 mile) coastline, and about 33,000 people are directly dependant on marine fisheries for their employment and income.
The six mile zone was introduced in 2010 as part of the country’s Fishing Regulation. Prior to its introduction, during the 1990s and 2000s foreign vessels could fish up to three nautical miles off the Liberian coastline, often raking the seabed and destroying local ecosystems in the search for high-value commercial species such as yellow croaker, which are found close to shore.
Since 2010, when the exclusion zone was introduced, artisanal fishers in Liberia have reported improved catch, increased incomes, a decrease in conflict with industrial trawlers, a reduction of the loss of equipment and an increase in safety at sea.
Reducing the exclusion zone would see an almost inevitable rise of competition from foreign industrial vessels fishing in coastal waters, and could put the livelihoods of the 33,000 people who rely on this industry at risk, says EJF. Moreover, as most foreign catch is exported overseas, the expected reduction in levels of fish being supplied to Liberia would threaten the food security of hundreds of thousands of citizens.
The Community Management Association from Robertsport, representing artisanal fisherman in the region has stated: “We are extremely disappointed by the government’s decision to halve the IEZ. Since its introduction, the zone has helped local fishers see a huge increase in fish catch, and in our incomes. By reducing the IEZ, the government will pave the way for industrial trawlers to re-enter our coastal waters and steal the fish that we rely on to feed our families.
“Local fishing communities are now mobilizing together to urge the government to reverse this damaging decision, which, if it goes ahead, will put local fishermen, their families and the entire country’s food security at risk.”
Liberia’s coastal waters are also a vital spawning and breeding ground for many species of fish. Allowing trawlers so close to the coast would endanger the region’s fragile marine ecosystems, further compromising the long-term sustainability of fish stocks in Liberian waters, says EJF.
EJF Executive Director Steve Trent said: “By removing the six nautical mile 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.”
EJF is urging the Government of Liberia to reconsider the proposal.