Liberia Fishing Controversy: Gov’t Defends Executive Order 84


Monrovia – Ineptitude has been a recurring theme from critics when it comes to the ineffectiveness of some agencies in the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led government.

Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

The case of the ongoing controversy regarding illegal fishing offers a chilling reminder of yet another blunder that has brought Liberia into the bad books of one of its major international partners, the European Union.

Over the past few years, the EU has been a strong advocate against illegal fishing and has expressed a commitment to ensure the sustainable use of the sea and its resources under the EU Common Fisheries Policy, and in the context of promoting better governance of the oceans worldwide.

“The Commission attaches great importance to cooperation with third countries,” according to a statement this week, which reaffirms the EU support to helping countries like Liberia strengthen their fight against illegal fishing.

So how did Liberia get here?

How did the second biggest shipping registry in the world with more than 100 fishing transport vessels registered under its flag, find itself blacklisted last October and forced into submission, by pledging to revisit its fisheries laws and undertake reform to work its way back in the good books?

It was the conclusion of the EU that the national fisheries authorities do not have the information or means to control the fleet.

“This lack of control has been confirmed by the listing of a Liberian vessel on the international “black list” last October.”

In the same vein, the EU charged that while Liberia had taken reform measures including the revision of its fisheries laws, no tangible progress had followed.

“The Commission hopes that the pre-identification will raise political awareness and encourage the country to implement the necessary reforms in fisheries governance.”

Sources close to the Liberian presidency suggest that the recent decision by the President to sign Executive Order 84, reducing Liberia’s Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ) from six Nautical Miles to three Nautical Miles for the purpose of revitalizing commercial and semi-industrial fishing in Liberia, was triggered by the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture was unable to control the fishing industry, thus prompting the decision to turn over that responsibility to the Liberia Maritime Authority.

The Executive Decision resulting into Executive Order 84 has however been greeted with steamy reactions, not just from the EU but the national legislature and a growing number of critics, standing in line to take the presidency on.

Mr. Nelson, a former Senator of Grand Kru County, who previously served as Minister of Internal Affairs under President Sirleaf declared this week that the Executive Order 84 has the propensity to reduce the territorial fishing right of Liberia.

“This kind of behavior on the part of government is mind boggling. Why do you want to reduce the territorial fishing right of Liberia? Why are you not extending it?”

Mr. Nelson told a local radio station in Monrovia on Tuesday, May 23. He said the President’s Executive Order will affect the local fishing community and “open avenues for foreigners to exploit the fishing industry in Liberia.”

The order is also drawing an angry response from an association of small scale fishermen and women from nine coastal counties under the banner of the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association (LAFA) who have expressed disappointment with the Executive Order 84.

The organization with a reported membership of 350,000 and headquartered in West Point, said in a letter to House Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay, read on Tuesday, that the order is not in their best interest.

“This decision has the propensity to create serious hardship on the already poor and struggling artisanal (small scale) fishermen,” stated the letter under the signatures of Mr. Jerry N. Blamo, the Secretary General, and President Nyantee Sleh Sr.

“Moreover, with respect to the 2010 Fisheries Regulation that brought the West Africa Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP) to Liberia, the executive order undermines government’s commitment to the next five years of the WARFP project.

In 2010, the fisheries regulation was approved to regulate the sector and to restrict the inshore-exclusive zone (IEZ),” the letter said.

In its defense, the government of Liberia in a statement this week says while it takes note of the concerns, including those earlier expressed by the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), the revitalization of the commercial and semi-industrial fishing will, in no way cause a drop in fish supply to the local market; but will instead lead to an increase. 

The government says the new guidelines, which will be published before any new license is issued, will ensure all fishing vessels land all catch in Liberia, the local market is expected to receive more fish supply and experience the consequent reduction in fish imports from Sierra Leone and other countries. Liberia currently imports nearly 50,000 metric tons of fish per year.

The government insists that the economic benefits from the domestic harvesting of fish rather than importing of fish will help the country’s balance of payment and the foreign exchange situation.

This benefit, the government believes, will help the entire country including artisanal fishermen.

Additionally, the government statement added, by using fish harvested in the country’s domestic waters to supply the local market, the price of food will naturally drop as opposed to the EJF’s assertion that there would be an increase in the price of food on the market.

For advocates like the EU and the EJF, Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing worldwide accounts for up   to 26 million metric tons of fish annually, estimated to be worth up to USD 23.5 billion.

According to the EJF, the recent carding decisions on Liberia follow extensive bilateral dialogue between the Commission and the carded country with regard to compliance with their international flag, coastal, port and/or market State obligations to combat IUU fishing.

“Amongst other measures, a red card issued by the European Commission results in exclusion of the carded country’s seafood from the EU market, as well as a ban on EU vessels fishing in the waters of the carded country.

Both red and yellow cards can be lifted when there is clear evidence that the circumstances that warranted the carding have been rectified.”

In October 2015, the Commission issued the Comoros with a yellow card for failures to exert adequate control of vessels registered to the  Comorian flag.

According to the Commission’s decision, the Comorian fishing fleet was operating in breach of Comorian law and was not monitored by the Comorian authorities.

Further shortcomings were found to exist in the country’s legal framework, the system of sanctions, the management of fisheries resources, and in monitoring, controlling and surveillance.

Like Liberia, the EJF explained that its recent announcement of a red card indicates that the Comoros has not demonstrated sufficient actions to exert control over its fishing fleet in line with an action plan delivered by the Commission and that many of the reasons for the original pre-identification (yellow card) remain unchanged.

This is why the EJF, Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF, referred to as ‘the coalition’) says they are working together to secure the harmonized and effective implementation of the EU Regulation to end illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Steve Trent, Executive Director, of EJF says the EU intervention is timely.

“EJF commends the EU’s efforts to fight illegal fishing. With these latest cards, the EU is sending a clear message that all countries must take robust measures against the grave threat that illegal fishing presents to the world’s oceans and the communities that depend on them.

Liberia’s yellow card is an important warning that fisheries governance must be significantly improved.

Recent proposals to weaken protections for artisanal fishermen by shrinking the Inshore Exclusion Zone were a step backward.

We are at an important crossroads for fisheries in Liberia, and EJF stands ready to work with the government to strengthen measures to protect artisanal fishermen and improve fisheries management”

María José Cornax, Policy and Advocacy Director, Oceana adds that the recent report showed that European vessels have been moving their operations to the Comoros every six months before returning back to the EU.

“With this red card, such opportunistic behaviors, which may have been carried out to evade EU fishing limitations, will be prohibited.

In addition, we hope to permanently stop such behaviors occurring by the EU fleet with more effective future external fisheries regulations”

Tony Long, Director of the Ending Illegal Fishing Project, The Pew Charitable Trusts averred that the EU regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing continues to drive positive change in those countries with which the Commission has entered dialogue.

“Despite the recent announcement of a red card, we are hopeful that the Comoros will remain engaged with the Commission and seize this opportunity to put in place the measures necessary to improve their ability to address illegal fishing.”