The arrival of six Chinese super-crawlers in Monrovia, Liberia, in June sparked outrage among the country's small-scale fishermen.
These super creepers can catch 12,000 tonnes of fish per year, which is almost twice the sustainable catch of key species that local fishermen depend on, potentially decimating vital fish stocks in just a few years.
Local fishing communities have joined the Liberian Artisanal Fishermen Association in calling on the Government to consider the livelihoods and food security of coastal communities and to reject the application for fishing licenses.
According to a joint statement published with the Environmental Justice Foundation, Liberian fisheries legislation only requires that these huge vessels not “threaten the sustainability of a fishery resource” in order to obtain a license from the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority.
Fishing without a license carries a penalty of up to US $ 1 million under Liberian fishing regulations, but illegal fishing has existed for years in Liberian waters due to a lack of surveillance and patrol.
Jerry N. Blamo, president of the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association, stated:
We sincerely hope that the government will respect Liberian law and protect the interests of local coastal communities and our shared marine environment. Our waters support local jobs and provide good quality food, but granting these massive supertrawlers fishing licenses would destroy that.
We sincerely hope that the Government will respect Liberian law and protect the interests of local coastal communities and our shared marine environment. Our waters provide local jobs and provide good quality food, but granting these mass fishing licenses for super-trawlers would destroy that.
Crazy fishing tactics lead to food insecurity
In Liberia, about 80% of people depend on fishing for essential protein, and the sector provides part-time or full-time employment for approximately 37,000 people, according to the joint statement.
When the fishermen go out in kru-style canoes they can catch up to 500 kilos a year. By comparison, super draggers have the ability to catch 2,000 tonnes of fish per year of bottom-dwelling fish species that are the most important to anglers. This is a direct threat to Liberians, many of whom live in chronic poverty and food insecurity. Half of Liberians live on less than two dollars a day.
Some coastal counties, where the target groups live, suffer from high levels of poverty and food insecurity, such as Margibi, Grand Cess and Robertsport, where more than 25% of households are not food secure, or compared to 16 % nationwide, according to the joint statement.
To make matters worse, the super-creepers arrived amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens to plunge millions of the world's poorest into famine.
Charles Simpson, president of the Northwest Grand Cape Mount County Community Management Association, said:
Over the last decade, we have worked extremely hard to stop illegal fishing and overfishing. We slowly see more fish for local fishermen to catch and women to process. These supertrawlers would unfairly compete for the same fish as local fishermen and reverse all of that progress. We are calling on the government to safeguard Liberian coastal communities by refusing fishing licenses for these vessels.
In the last decade, we have worked very hard to stop illegal fishing and overfishing. Little by little we see more fish for local fishermen to catch and women to process. These super creepers would unfairly compete for the same fish as local fishermen and reverse all that progress. We call on the Government to protect Liberia's coastal communities and to deny fishing licenses for these vessels.
Liberia is now the third West African country to see a surge in Chinese industrial trawlers since the beginning of 2020. Indeed, the arrival of these super-trawlers is part of a large increase in industrial fishing vessels in West Africa, many linked to the growing fleet of remote Chinese waters.
These six super-creepers allegedly attempted to net fish in Mozambican waters before heading to Liberia, according to the joint statement.
“The growth of the Chinese industrial fleet in West Africa is very worrying. Many of these countries have small fleets that are vital to local livelihoods, stability, and food security. They have almost no options to compete with the super crawlers that can suck up large amounts of fish and move forward, ”said Steve Trent, EJF CEO.
In Senegal, 52 vessels applied for licenses in April, which would have put enormous strain on local marine resources. In a victory for local fisheries and sustainable fishing, the Government must reject them.
In Ghana, three new Chinese trawlers are still awaiting a government decision, and local canoe fishermen have expressed great concern.
Trent says that the “Liberian National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority has played a positive role in combating illegal and unsustainable fishing,” and urged authorities to continue to protect Liberian fisheries.
It is not the first time that Chinese super-trawlers have tried to fish in Liberian waters. For years, small-scale fishing communities have battled illegal practices and overfishing that have put their livelihoods at risk along with their rich marine ecosystem.
Foreign super-creepers also arrive from other parts of the world, such as Russia and the European Union, according to a 2019 BBC report, but three-quarters of all foreign boats in West African waters are from China.
In 2010, Liberia established an “artisanal fishing zone” to protect the right of canoe and small boat fishermen that helped replenish fish stocks and improve the quality of the catch.
P. Nyantee Sleh, President of the Community Management Associations of Montserrado and Bomi Counties, also in northwestern Liberia, said:
Small-scale fishing is an important source of jobs for people here in Monrovia, and across the country. In earlier decades, local fishermen could not earn a livelihood because of rampant overfishing, but in recent years things have improved. These supertrawlers would be a big step backwards – harming jobs and future food security.
Small-scale fishing is an important source of work for people here in Monrovia, and throughout the country. In previous decades, local fishermen were unable to earn a living due to rampant overfishing, but in recent years things have improved. These super-creepers would be a big step backward, damaging jobs and future food security.
By the end of July, the six super-skidders had applied for a license and were docked in the port of Monrovia awaiting a government decision.