The fisheries sector plays an important role in the national economy as an approximated 150,000 tonnes of fish is harvested annually, contributing approximately 10% of the GDP. The industry generates revenue of up to LE 30 billion and foreign exchange, provides employment and serves as the largest source of affordable protein for majority of Sierra Leoneans (MFMR, 2012; MFMR revenue profile, 2014).
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is a body solely charged with the task of managing and conserving the fisheries resources of Sierra Leone although the Environmental Protection Agency of Sierra Leone (EPA-SL) plays a role in protecting the environment and conserving resources. The legal framework for fisheries management is enshrined in the 1994 Fisheries Management and Development Act, complemented by the 1995 Fisheries Regulations. These legal tools are aided by the Fisheries bill (2010). The Fisheries Bill of 2010 is seen as more progressive in addressing the issues that concern marine resources management than existing laws that have to a large extent outlived their usefulness.
The current status of fisheries resources in the country exhibits a decline in catch landings as well as fish quality and composition, taking into account diversity of species as the sector is plagued with several problems including:
Sierra Leone’s waters are home to some of the world’s most endangered and critically endangered marine species such as the Hawksbill turtle, logger head turtle etc. The Sustainable Development Goal 14 looks to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Sustainably managing fisheries resources in Sierra Leone is an essential component to achieving the Agenda for Prosperity, PRSP III. Ensuring the enforcement of the fisheries Act 1994 and enacting the Fisheries Bill of 2010 will enhance revenue generation and contribute to achieving the goals of the A4P. The role of policy formulation and capacity to enforce remains a critical challenge within this sector key amongst which are:
Limited capacity to manage resources – allowing open access to fisheries resources with minimal or no standard of surveillance or monitoring increases pressure and makes stock depletion tough to manage. This often leads to unregulated fishing as there is often a rapid increase in the number of local and foreign fishing vessels. Despite efforts by West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (WARFP), Environmental Justice foundation (EJF) and others, the surveillance system in Sierra Leone is still weak and compromised. Community Monitoring Assistants (CMAs) have been trained to help with surveillance around various communities but they still remain ill-equipped to carry out their duties. Records have shown that Licenses are issued to foreign fishing boats based on the size of the boat and the types of gear used. It has been realized that the system is flawed because many of the vessels harvest beyond the gross registered tonnage (GRT) of their vessels. This action by foreign vessels goes unchecked. There is no fish quota and limits for local vessels as a means of regulating their operations. These actions on the part of entities comes at a cost to the nation as Audit Service Sierra Leone predicted that an approximated $30 million of lost from IUU.
Inadequate fisheries regulations and poor enforcement- current rules and regulations regarding fisheries in the country are old and outdated to manage fishing capacity to a sustainable level. The old and outdate laws makes enforcement quite a challenge for regulating agencies. This is couple with the new dimensions of challenges which were not considered in developing previous regulations are popping up as the complexity and geopolitical dynamics of the world changes. The current fisheries regulations do not address current global realities such as climate change, natural disasters and the exacerbated rate of commercial fishing.
Lack of transparency and traceability: There is barely any systems for tracing the source of fish sold in markets or ensure that it was caught legally and in a sustainable manner. Ensuring traceability of fish sold in markets can aid effective systems and be rewarding for sustainable practices, whilst deterring irresponsible practices. Our fish products reaching international markets or competing with other products to a greater extent relied on meeting international hygienic and environmental standards. Traceability ensures premium prices and is noted to improve market growth.
No off-fishing seasons or periods: there are few protected areas and no-take zones, where fishing is banned or strictly regulated in the country, even sites designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the country are open to fishing. The current lack of protection poses a problem for fish spawning sites and the deep sea, which are vulnerable to overfishing. Fishers have often take advantage of spawning aggregations (when masses of fish move to specific locations to breed) this puts a risk on the survival or continuity of fish generations, deep sea fishes share similar fate because they do not easily repopulate when overfished (Robinson et., 2014).
Lack of knowledge of existing laws and policies- Fishermen are not familiar with some of the key regulations relating to the sector in which they work. This presents a huge problem for compliance.
High pricing of fishing gears- such as engines, spare parts, nets etc, pose several problems for fishing activities. Expensive cost of proper gear makes it easier for fishermen to choose cheaper yet harmful gears and fishing methods and equipment.
Social conflicts arising over access to resource – There is a steep rise in the number of fishing boats leading to an increase in cultural and historical rivalry over traditional fishing grounds (such as that between Mboke and Delken communities in Bonthe) and subsequently increases as pressure on the resource increases, section 89 (1 and 2) of the Fisheries Bill 2010 makes it clear that a registration is need for artisanal fishing boats but no licensed are required however, some artisanal boats operate mainly for commercial purposes. There are also conflicts between migratory fishing groups from other regions of the country and other nation’s fishers during seasonal visits, because they are better equipped and use gears considered destructive or conflict with local traditions. Deaths have been reported at sea as reported by fishermen in Mania.
Destructive and illegal fishing – This method is not regulated thereby brings about a decline in productivity due to habitat destruction through beach seine, use of poison, wrong net sizes etc. These actions adversely affect the livelihoods of fishing communities. Over the years, fishermen have been using monofilaments because of the perception that they will achieve higher catch with lower cost. This has been scientifically disproven by trials which show that monofilament nets often catch 2-4 as much as multifilament nets. It has been proven that using monofilament nets gathers greater catch but is unselective and picks up not only targeted species but also juvenile fish and other marine life which end up becoming a bycatch. Being that these are made of nylon or other non-degradable materials, when lost at sea, they continue fishing and trapping marine plant and animals at random (Collins, 1979; Maki, 2006).
Climate Change – rise in sea level, high temperatures, changes in weather patterns, high humidity, make it difficult to access richest fishing sites reducing the chances of catching and selling more fish. Increasing surface temperatures across the world’s oceans are leading to the retreat of many species to deeper waters, where artisanal fishermen can only hope to compete with industrial-scale fishing operations. Artisanal fishermen are particularly disadvantaged by this because they have to row longer distances to get decent catches, a venture which is tedious and risky.
Sustainable management of fisheries resources is important for food security in the country especially with the current hunger ranking. Lack of education coupled with absence of sustainable alternative for livelihoods, are all factors influencing current behavior of fishermen. The weak enforcement of the current regulations deters the country’s progress and undermined food security. For example, the Sierra Leone Fishery Products Regulations 2007 set the standards for hygienic handling of Sierra Leone’s fish and fish products. The regulations maintain the hygienic standards of the European Union. Therefore, complying with these standards would improve marketability of local fish products, making them eligible for export into the EU market. This is an implication that enforcement of acts and regulations will aid sustainable development in Sierra Leone.