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24 May 2022

Ashoka Mukpo, Mongabay (USA)

Sierra Leone: Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing presents enforcement challenges as local fishers blame presence of Chinese trawlers

"In Sierra Leone, local fishers and foreign trawlers battle for their catch" 24 May 2022

  • At wharfs across the Freetown peninsula in Sierra Leone, local fishers say in recent years it’s become harder to get a good catch. They blame foreign trawlers for overexploiting the country’s fish stocks.
  • Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources says it has systems meant to curb illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, but enforcement remains a challenge.
  • In 2019, China signed a fisheries agreement with Sierra Leone that includes a promise to build a $55 million harbor, but some fishers say boats owned by its citizens are among the worst offenders.

[...] Statistically, the likeliest answer is the country that dominates Sierra Leone’s fishing industry: China. According to figures EJF shared with Mongabay, 73% of trawling licenses in the country as of 2020 were held by boats either flying a Chinese flag or owned by a Chinese company. Whether their outsized role in Sierra Leonean waters is welcome or not often depends on who you ask. [...] Sei of the fisheries ministry bristled at the notion that China plays a bigger role in IUU fishing than other countries.

“I will not want to subscribe to any blame game where somebody will single out a country like China, just because they are ready to give us money,” he told Mongabay in an interview in Freetown. “They have given a grant of $55 million — that is very magnanimous, and I can tell you as a private citizen that I’m very happy with that kind of grant.” [...]

Boats from the EU and other East Asian countries, he added, have also been caught fishing illegally in Sierra Leonean waters in recent years.

Since IUU fishing often goes undetected, it’s hard to tell with any specificity how much each country contributes to the problem. But China’s distant-water fleet is indisputably involved. EJF’s report said that among the fleet’s recorded IUU fishing incidents worldwide, Sierra Leone was the second-most common location in West Africa after Ghana.

This past March, a U.S. Navy ship working with Sierra Leonean authorities searched a Chinese trawler suspected of fishing illegally. The Chinese Embassy later denounced the boarding operation, saying it was an attempt to “drive a wedge in China-Sierra Leone cooperation.” [...]