By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla
With iron ore prices still tumbling down development partners are encouraging the Government of Sierra Leone to now focus on value addition sectors such as fisheries and agriculture which have great potential to revamp the country’s shrinking economy. The World Bank Group, for example, is considering the provision of additional financing of around US$4 million support for Sierra Leone’s Fisheries industry, with a focus on engaging the private sector on value added fish exports.
“Iron ore price is way down at US$38.0; that is ¼ the price they were before. Now is time to focus on the value added sectors such as fisheries and agriculture,” says World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone- Parminder Brar- in a recent press conference in Freetown.
The proposed project, which will be phase two of the West Africa Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP), also plans to establish the first health laboratory in the country to test the quality of fish to meet standards of the international market.
Sierra Leone has some of the best fishing grounds in the world, just off the coast of the capital. Employing about 230, 000 people, the fisheries sector’s turnover in 2015 was about 134, 000 tons (the current volume of fish catch in Sierra Leone is about 10 times what Liberia catches) and contributing about 10% of the GDP of Sierra Leone, according to the World Bank.
The World Bank has been providing support for the sector since 2007, but the initial WARFP project started in 2010 and ended in 2014 due to some irregularities in the implementation of the project. However, the project regularized the sector by ensuring that all fishing vessels operating in Sierra Leone registered legally. It also established a Joint Monitoring Center (JMC) which monitored illegal fishing activities through the use of satellites and radar. It further established 31 Community Management Associations (CMAs) across the fishing communities in the country. There are also fisheries officials who are actually working with these communities and there has been some progress over the last few years.
Before the World Bank’s involvement there was a lot of over exploitation of Sierra Leone’s fishing stocks, with lot of illegal trawlers operating in the waters of the country. Artisanal fishing was really suffering. In 2012 President Ernest Bai Koroma took strong action in banning this particular kind of fishing, which led to the establishment of the JMC to monitor all illegal fishing happening in Sierra Leone through the use of satellites and through the use of radars. By 2014 fish catches in the coastal communities improved by 30%, thereby increasing the income of fishing communities by US$16 million.
The new fisheries project will be operational by the end of 2016, but the World Bank is looking forward in earnest to see some positive changes in the current situation in the industry. These few areas of concern to the Bank are not however a pre-condition for the new project to become operational.
One of the key concerns is that the JMC has virtually been shut down for the last two years. The World Bank Country Manager reported that he visited the center recently and found out there was no electricity, the radar that was damaged by lightning strike two years ago is still unfixed and the facility had no internet connection because of accrued bills.
“If you don’t have internet, you cannot even access the data which is being broadcast by the satellites. This is a major problem. This has negatively impacted the sector hugely. The JMC have all the equipment but they need funding to be operational,” says Parminder.
Another concern is the volume of illegal trawlers operating in the country. Before the World Bank became involved in the sector, there were more than 80 trawlers operating in the waters of Sierra Leone. When the project became operational in 2012 and with strict enforcement, the number reduced to 30. This year, 2016, according to latest statistics, it has gone back to around 80. The World Bank estimates that 50% of the trawlers doing fishing right now in Sierra Leone are illegal. A local newspaper recently reported about rampant illegal fishing activity in Bonthe Island, a predominantly fishing community South of Sierra Leone. In essence, there’s a lot of over fishing now happening, which need to be monitored and managed if the fish stocks of Sierra Leone are to be preserved.
A third concern to the Bank is the issue of license fees. Firstly, it has to do with the quantum of license fees. Sierra Leone charges only 1% of the value of the fishing vessel as license fees, while in Liberia it’s 10%. This obviously explains why a lot of trawlers are coming to Sierra Leone and the reason for the over exploitation of fishing stocks.
Secondly, it is the way in which the licenses are issued. Liberia is moving towards a transparent auction of licenses fees while Sierra Leone is still grappling with the ancient method of agents coming to town to acquire licenses on behalf of the fishing companies.
“The way licenses are handed out in Sierra Leone is like from the days that we used to have sailing ships and you didn’t have the internet. Every shipping company, you had to have an agent and your agent had to work with government officials to try to get the license issued for the shipping company. Those days are long passed. Everybody now has access to internet, and Sierra Leone has great potential for increasing its revenue but the license fees need to be auctioned in a transparent manner exactly as what they are planning on doing in Liberia,” says Parminder.
Lots of Sierra Leone fish is being caught and exported to markets such as Korea but the actual fisherman in Sierra Leone gets less than 1% of the final value of the fish, Parminder continues; adding that there’s a lot of potential of doing value addition in Sierra Leone and exporting the same fish but packaged better in clean and hygienic conditions so that it is acceptable in international markets.
He adds: “Through increasing license fees, through penalties you can increase revenue, you can maintain your fish stocks and actually help the country a lot better than what has been going on.”
Fishing alone, properly handled, could provide the country direct revenue of close to US$100 million annually.
Last year the Government of Sierra Leone purchased a patrol boat which was commissioned by President Koroma. Whether the boat is manning the country’s waters effectively needs to be seen.
Further action by the government is the launch of an investigation (the report of which has already been submitted) into the WARFP phase I and a promise to take action against any culprit found.
Last week the President also commissioned about 300 fishing boats provided for young local fishermen in fishing communities in the capital.
Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association (DEJA-SL).