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“Voter Education Series” Fishing Sector

“Voter Education Series” Fishing Sector

With barely ten weeks to go for the next general elections, which to me would be a kind of referendum for this government, we should keep telling it to the rooftops, that President Koroma has achieved more than one was expecting. And for those of us who came to this planet not more than 31 years ago, what we have been seeing has given us hope that with a dedicated leadership in President Koroma, we can move mountains.  (Photo: John Pa Baimba Sesay, IA, Beijing, China)

In 2007, President Ernest Bai Koroma scored a total of 54.6% which enabled him to democratically remove a sitting government, being in opposition at the time, with a total of 950,407 votes and that was following a run off voting. Berewa, with all the resources in his hand at the time, including the use of state security and state resources, was asked to leave State House and return to his house and this was very democratic. One fact we should hammer home is that when he was in opposition, President Ernest Koroma worked in line with democratic dictates in wanting to attain the Presidency.

Despite what my ‘grandpa’, Sam Banya and others think of the Koroma Presidency, the fact remains, his  successes can be outlined in books, if, for instance,  I am  to write a book on ‘Five Years of  President Koroma’s Governance-successes and challenges’. For the sake of history, I will have to look at the aspect of infrastructural development of this government in subsequent editions, especially how the government has ensured, development is decentralized to every corner of the country, including Kailahun, Bombali and Pujehun, how he has succeeded in Information, Communication and Technology, how his human right records have been like in five years, how press freedom has been maintained since he came to power, amongst other areas. Today, I want to concentrate on the progress that the government has made in the area of managing the country’s fisheries sector, within the last five years or so.

Dr. Salieu Sankoh, Project Coordinator for the West African Regional Fisheries Project in Sierra Leone stated, thus: “We have set the records straight! Any vessel that wants to fish on our waters must do so through the right channel and comply with the laws of Sierra Leone.”(Source: http://www.salonereporter.com/?p=5048). A country’s fisheries sector is important in her economic growth. For long, especially during the era of our recent past government of  President Kabba(h), the Fisheries and Marine Resources sectors exemplified the stark reality of the link between the growing poverty amongst our people and the lack of practical management of the plentiful natural resources of the nation.  The country is rich in terms of fisheries resources. The fisheries sector has been of great relevance in terms of contributing to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (which is about 10%) and also in addressing the challenges of youth employment. From a statistical perspective, the fishery sector is reportedly providing employment for an estimated 100,000 persons directly and for about 500,000 persons indirectly, which is representing about 10% of the country’s population. In coastal areas, about 25% of the male population of working age is reported to be involved in part-time or full time fishing. Fishing activities in Sierra Leone is divided into two major markets-industrial fishing and artisanal fishing. Despite these positive trends, there are also problems facing the industry.

The determination of President Koroma in tackling national problems could best be described as great and outstanding. The problem of illegal fishing has been a major challenge -the use of destructive fishing gears and practices (such as inshore shrimp trawling, beach seines and drift nets with small mesh sizes) are damaging sensitive nursery grounds and capturing juvenile species. Also a majority of the fish caught by industrial vessels is transshipped at sea for export, with no local value added or export benefits, because there is insufficient infrastructure, nor EU-certified quality control, among other challenges. As a result, statistics indicate that we are losing about 30 million dollars annually through illegal fishing. (Source: http://www.sierraexpressmedia.com/archives/43664#sf ) and this was a major concern for the government of President Koroma.

In this direction, there have been great efforts by President Koroma to address these and other challenges in the sector. Our development partners have also been playing a crucial role in this direction. Take for instance the New Partnership for African Development- NEPAD that has committed itself to helping  the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, in terms of developing the country’s fisheries industry in a number of areas, including Trade, Quality Control, Governance, Aquaculture, Monitoring, Control and Surveillance.   Again, another role of our development partners is that which is being played by World Bank. Within its framework, the country is implementing a five years West Africa Regional Fisheries Program, a project aimed at strengthening the country’s capacity to manage its fisheries well. This project is funded by the International Development Association (IDA) and Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the World Bank, and has three interrelated components namely; (A) Good governance and sustainable management of the fisheries; (B) Reduction of Illegal Fishing and (C) ensuring an Increase Local Value Addition to fish products. The project seeks a 50% reduction of fishing vessels that are observed fishing within the 6-mile Inshore Exclusion Zone by the end of the project life cycle. It is supporting the strengthening of the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance of our waters to reduce illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and ensure that industrial fishing operations are carried out within the provisions of the laws of Sierra Leone.

Prior to 2007 when President Koroma came to power, the fisheries sub-sector was as chaotic as the way governance was in itself in the country. Practically, there were little or no proper implementation strategies and no annual management plans for the sector.  Fisheries outstations were dysfunctional, and revenue collection was neither effective, nor properly coordinated. Total amount generated from licenses, transshipment and fines was at a meager five million Leones. In the industrial sector, foreign operators dominated and did whatever they wanted – as there was no control. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing was a huge problem within the fisheries and marine resources sector.  By 2007, Sierra Leone’s fishery was among the most exploited in the world.

When President Koroma took up office in 2007, with the realization that our valuable fisheries and potential marine resources which if properly managed could contribute greatly to the well-being of the nation, the country commenced a process of transformation in the governance, economic and biological aspects of the fisheries sector. The aquaculture and inland fisheries sector was a moribund state, requiring development.  I refereed earlier the support to the country through a World Bank funded program that has three interrelated components, among them, ensuring Good governance and sustainable management of the fisheries. In line with President Koroma’s belief in prudently management the natural resources of the country, and the country’s efforts in ensuring a turn-around in the fisheries sector, he   primarily focused on the proper governance of the resource and its sustainable use. In line with the governance aspect of the sector, he ensured, soon after coming to power: a review process of the governance system of the resource. His government introduced a participatory governance (co-management) model involving all stakeholders in the sector. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) embraced wide-ranging stakeholder consultations in the design and implementation of fisheries management measures and even in fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.  At some point, I was part of the process through the West African Regional Fisheries Programme, of which I was part as Communications Specialist. The government has also ensured there are the needed management tools such as the ecosystem approach to fisheries, which take into account the human dimensions of fisheries and the impact of fishing on marine ecosystem, have been introduced and implemented in various communities across the country. Local councils are now in charge of revenue collection of licensing of canoes and attendant fishing gears in the artisanal fishery sector. He also ensured extensive consultations with stakeholders which have seen the development of a transformative fisheries policy and operational framework regulating activities in the sector. A  clear and functional units such as the Policy and Planning Unit; Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Unit and the Commercial Fishery Unit  have been created by this government which are aimed at ensuring , among other things, proper governance; reduction in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and addition of value to the fisheries.

Government also ensured the developed of a national aquaculture strategy paper that has a focus on sustainable commercialization of aquaculture production systems.  On strengthening management architecture, the government of president Koroma acknowledged the inefficiency of the system inherited from past government, and thus, developed a new management style to tackle the key management gaps within it. There was the establishment in 2009, of a Joint Maritime Committee (JMC), to address issues of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This Committee is led by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) and is comprised of all major maritime institutions, including the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration (SLMA), the Office of National Security (ONS), the Marine Police, Immigrations and Customs Department of the National Revenue Authority. A Scientific and Technical Committee (STC) at the ministerial level now provides additional fisheries management advice to the Minster and director of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

Wikipedia has a classical definition of illegal unregulated and unreported fishing. Illegal fishing takes place where vessels operate in violation of the laws of a fishery. This can apply to fisheries that are under the jurisdiction of a coastal state or to high seas fisheries regulated by regional organizations. Unreported fishing is fishing that has been unreported or misreported to the relevant national authority or regional organization, in contravention of applicable laws and regulations. Unregulated fishing generally refers to fishing by vessels without nationality, or vessels flying the flag of a country not party to the regional organization governing that fishing area or species. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal,_unreported_and_unregulated_fishing )

Sierra Leone has been tackling this aspect since President Koroma came to power in 2007.The Joint Maritime Committee has introduced integrated maritime patrols comprising the different maritime and key state institutions, aimed at combating IUU fishing and enforcing other maritime security issues. Under JMC, a fleet management system and automatic information system has been introduced to monitor the position of licensed fishing vessels at sea. And many industrial fishing vessels have been fixed with vessel monitoring systems to provide real time information on the position and area of operation. This is all under the earnest leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma and his government. And the Ministry of Fisheries has also been providing ministerial leadership role in this.

With support from the West African Fisheries project (Sierra Leone), the JMC’s Fisheries Protection Unit is been provided with surveillance patrol vessels for effective integrated maritime patrols. Also, a framework is now in place for dashboard operators to monitor the activities of licensed fishing vessels which will include report on daily catch reporting and positions of vessel operations.  In 2007, government secured an MOU with the United States Government to facilitate effective maritime patrols in the maritime waters of Sierra Leone, in order to combat IUU fishing, contraband goods and other custom related issues. With the United States Coast Guards collaborating with the Sierra Leone Navy, major successes have been registered in this area – in promoting compliance and establishing control. These arrangements have successfully led to several arrests of vessels and prosecution of owners in 2010 and 2011. Punishments have ranged from fines and impounding of vessels, to confiscation of fish.

 Ensuring an effective Co-Management, Marine Conservation and Territorial Use-rights (TURFS) has also been another area of success by the government in terms of effectively managing the country’s fisheries sector.  There has been an enormous improvement in the management of the fisheries resource and increasing marine biodiversity conservation, as government has taken on a co-management framework for the implementation of fisheries management issues including enforcement of the ban on illegal fishing and the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). There has also been the establishment of a Marine Protect Area- MPA Task Force Committee which has identified principles for the establishment and management of MPAs. In trying to ensure compliance at the local level, the government of Ernest Bai Koroma has initiated a programme of training needs assessment in fishing communities for the registration of small scale fishing vessels which will support the smooth implementation of territorial use rights in fisheries. This is expected to put an end to the open access regime (where it is done at will) which has characterized our artisanal fisheries sector.

  Access to fishing will be more controlled by members of different territories along the coast and refusal to comply will result in denial. There has been the introduction of an incentive for change programme to enhance co-management and eliminate illegal nets. Under this scheme, illegal fishing nets used by artisanal fishermen are replaced with legal nets at subsidize rates. The country has developed a national plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks in Sierra Leone, wherein, fisher men and financiers are discouraged from shark fining. In addition, through our consultations with fishing companies, Fisheries Observers are now deployed onboard tuna vessels. This is a huge success for the country in meeting her obligations to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). This step will enable Sierra Leone to be allocated quota from ICCAT to which Sierra Leone became member in 2008.

 At the industrial level, in complying with international regulations, government has delinked the registration of vessels from the International Ship Registry in New Orleans. Government has banned pair trawling and the use of monofilament netting materials for fishing purposes as a robust conservation measure mandated by the President himself. This conservation measure has led to an increase in fish stock levels and availability of fish in the market amounting to about 7000 metric tons between January and June 2010. In guaranteeing a turnaround in the fisheries sector – i.e. closing the window on the virtual lawlessness that existed before 2007, President Koroma’s efforts have also been directed at modernizing the fisheries legal framework.  Through a technical cooperation project with the United Nations providing legal experts and fisheries professionals, the country has instituted a fisheries legislative review technical committee (FLRTC) to standardize the country’s fisheries legal framework. With support from the Attorney Generals Law Officers Department, the team has undertaken the review of the 1994 fisheries management and development Act, the 1995 fisheries regulations and the 2007 fishery product regulations.

When President Koroma assumed office, enhancing compliance and establishing control became the key focus of his governance administration. Since 2008 to present, several surveys have been conducted biennially with support from the EU. These surveys have appraised the fishery resource base of Sierra Leone, providing information on the abundance of different fish stocks in the waters of Sierra Leone. The outcomes of the surveys indicate that Sierra Leone has been able to establish control over her resources with the discovery of abundant pelagic fish resources especially carangids.

Since 2007, we have, as a country devoted our efforts to accessing EU markets so as to boost the country’s policy objective of tapping the economic dividends of the resources and provide substantial contribution of the fisheries sector to the improvement of the national economy. Between 2008 and 2010, we have seen the construction of four landing site facilities at Tombo, Shenge, Bonthe, and Goderich with support from the African Development Bank. The facilities will improve on post harvest losses through improved handling and processing of fish caught in the artisanal fishery sector. President Koroma has  initiated the construction process for the Freetown Marine Training School (FTMS) under a UN support scheme, he has  undertaken the revitalization of the fishing and seafood processing industry in Sierra Leone with the construction of a fishery training institute, he has  initiated plans to construct a fishing habour which will improve significantly official controls for hygiene and sanitation for fishery products, facilitate export of fish to EU markets and improve on employment and economic development in Sierra Leone.

His government, through the Fisheries Ministry has commenced mass construction of jetties at Gbondapi in the Pujehun District; Gbangbatoke in the Moyamba District; Yargoi in the Bonthe District and Port Loko in Port Loko District and has also built jetties in Rokupur, Kassiri, Kychon and Mambolo in the Kambia District. President Koroma has also tried to improve safety at sea by securing and staffed a Search and Rescue boat. Navigation aids have also been installed in Sierra Leone’s territorial waters and inland waterways, to indicate danger spots, sand-banks, and direct ships coming into the country. Government has also purchased and installed ultra modern communication equipment in ten jetties in the country. Radio rooms have been already installed and attached to jetties in Shenge, Matru Jong, Rokupur and Tombo. Furthermore, Government amended the Merchant Shipping Act which empowers the authorities to prosecute boat owners or operators who fail to provide life jackets for their passenger.

In essence, what we have seen in 57 months of the Koroma President is an improved fisheries sector which will be of great help in moving the country towards meeting international best practice. But with his reelection in November, we are pretty sure of getting more in this sector and that is why I will personally keep asking the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource not to relent in their endeavor to work in line with the President’s Agenda for Change, especially in line with their mandate. The West African Regional Fisheries Project is also crucial in this direction and what they do today will determine the growth of the sector. So they too should not relent in their work.

Read next progress made in the promotion of human right issues under President Koroma.

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