Monrovia – In May 2017, during the last year of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the European Union (EU) issued Liberia a yellow card, identifying it as not cooperating in the fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
In recent years, the Government of Liberia (GoL) and the EU have been working behind the scenes in hopes of removing the yellow card. In fact, on December 12, 2015, Liberia and the EU entered into a Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA), established the principles, rules and procedures governing the conditions under which Union vessels may engage in fishing activities in the Liberian fishing zone, economic, financial, technical and scientific cooperation in the fisheries sector with a view to promoting sustainable fishing in the Liberian fishing zone and the development of the Liberian fisheries sector.
Lifting Card Will be a Boost, NaFAA Says
The two parties also agreed to cooperate on the management, control and surveillance measures in the Liberian fishing zone with a view to ensuring that the rules and conditions are complied with and that the measures for the conservation of fish stocks and management of fishing activities are effective, in particular, the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing partnership between operators and aimed at developing economic activities in the fisheries sector and related activities, in the common interest.
The Liberian government, through the Director-General of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), Mrs. Emma Glassco says it is making headways and hoping that the EU will see reason to lift the Yellow Card. “Lifting of the yellow card will boost Liberia fishing and maritime economy and attract substantial investments in the fisheries sector as the EU market is the closest and biggest to Africa,” the NaFAA boss told FrontPageAfrica this week.
To understand the gravity of how much the ban is costing Liberia. The EU which has the biggest market globally, imports 5.2 million tones of fish equivalent to $US26 billion while the United States of America imports 1.2 million tonnes which is equivalent to $US18 billion USD. Japan imports US$1.2 million tonnes and the value is $US16 billion.
While NaFAA says it is working to address the shortcomings identified in the notification from the EU and is optimistic of full implementation of the IUU Regulation and the imminent signing of the second round of the SFPA, the delay in lifting the ban is causing some jittery.
NaFAA says in the months since the Yellow Card came into effect it has been working toward withdrawal of the notification which has relegated Liberia to a non-cooperating third country in fighting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
NaFAA says the continuous monitoring of Liberia’s progress in the fisheries sector by the EC and provision of guidance against shortcomings experienced in the past is all the more reason the ban should be lifted.
NaFAA says in its effort to rectify the shortcomings identified by the EC, it has been working in accordance with the action plan to rectify the shortcomings and has been successful in providing an Act to Amend the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Law and Adding thereto Management and Development; Act of 2019 was passed by the Legislature. Approved by the President on November 26, 2019.
A recent gap analysis is currently being conducted by NaFAA to update the 2010 Fisheries Regulations to conform with the Fisheries and Aquaculture Management and Development Law of 2019 and efforts are underway to established a new Transshipment Unit for the purpose of efficiently monitoring all distant water vessels engaged in fishing activities as well as for the issuance of both transshipment authorization and annual license.
The denial of Liberian vessels has resulted into vessels leaving Liberian flag registry; numerous applications and appeals for its vessels have reportedly fallen on deaf ears causing complications for Liberia’s attempts to export seafoods to the EU market, resulting in lost employment opportunities and much-needed revenue for Liberia. What is responsible and how can the cash-strapped nation meet the EU requirements
Making Gains on Vessels Tracking, Monitoring and Reporting
All this, NaFAA says is a sign that Liberia is turning the corner.
Together with the Liberia Maritime Authority, NaFAA has developed a draft Memorandum of Understanding which outlines respective responsibilities of both institutions considering RFMOs, transshipment licenses and authorizations, flagging, amongst others.
It has also updated its FMC reporting format to conform with international requirements (the EU) and currently monitors 16 Liberia flagged vessels under various RFMOs; 33 Liberia flagged reefer vessels (unverified) operating outside various RFMOs are also being monitored via AIS, the global Automated Identification System, a satellite software device which tracks industrial vessels activities for vessels above 299 gross tonnage.
NaFAA says it is also working along with LiMA and various RFMOs to verify the status of the vessels.
Today, Liberia has developed and adopted its National Plan of Action to fight Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (NPOA-IUU) and is being implemented. Also being implemented is the adoption of the National Plan of Action for Sharks (NPOA-Sharks)
Prior to the implementation of the “Agreement” in 2016, the European Commission (EC) in 2015, had earlier conducted a mission on the Implementation of the IUU Regulation.
Last May, seven agencies – Liberia National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), Liberia Coast Guard (LCG), Liberia Immigration Service (LIS), Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA), Liberia Port Authority, Liberia Ministry of Justice, and the Liberia National Police – came together to ensure an end to illegal fishing.
While the effort is key to removing Liberia from the Yellow Card status, meeting the EU requirement is rigid.
Rigid Requirements Remain
A recent report highlighted that the key areas of concern continue to be the international registry, in particular, communication and exchange of information between the Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA) and the Bureau of National Fisheries (BNF) (now National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority [NaFAA] and to be addressed as such henceforth in this document), and the number of RFMOs Liberia is now party or cooperating non-party to and meeting the obligations of all these.
LiMA is also required to to provide NaFAA with a full list of registered fishing vessels, and provide access to VMS data for these vessels. NaFAA must ensure their revised Fisheries Act includes the obligations of all RFMOs they are member of or party to, and push for the rapid adoption of this new text so as to be able to implement it.
EC is also required to monitor the progress and ensure that the existing shortcomings are addressed in a timely manner. However, FrontPageAfrica has learned that the imminent signing of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) holds the key.
For now, Liberia continues to linger in the zone of the EU’s non-cooperating third country in fighting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing”. The bottom line for the cash-strapped nation is that EU vessels are not allowed to fish in waters under the Yellow Card. Although the ban came during the regime of former President Sirleaf, the Weah administrations is racing against time to right the wrongs in hopes of creating a key source of revenue to salvage the struggling economy.