Major concerns have been raised by Liberia’s Artisanal Fishermen’s Association and local community fisheries associations, following the arrival of six giant Chinese trawlers in Liberia.
The six Chinese constructed trawlers, Hao Yuan Yu 860, 861, 862, 863, 865, and 866 arrived in Liberia on 12 June from Mozambique. Each of these trawlers is capable of catching at least 2,000 tonnes of fish every year. This is 4,000 times the catch of a local Kru canoe, which catches an average of 500 kg a year, EJF Foundation reported. The presence of the trawlers has since sparked widespread concerns in Libera. Some groups are requesting the government to reject the request for fishing licenses over fears of the unsustainable fishery resource.
“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,” President of the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen’s Association, Jerry N. Blamo said. These trawlers have the fishing capacity to catch at least twice as much as the total national sustainable catch – 12,0000 tonnes. Liberia’s maximum sustainable catch of these bottom-dwelling species – including by local fishers – is only 6,000 tonnes a year.
According to EJF Foundation the fishing capacity of these Chinese trawlers “could have serious implications for livelihoods and food security, especially in light of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, which threaten to plunge millions of the world’s poorest into famine. 80% of Liberia’s population is dependent on fish for essential dietary protein and the sector provides full- or part-time employment for 37,000 people.”
However, in the wake of these protests, “on July 30 and 31, 2020, aggrieved members of the Liberian Seamen Union stormed offices of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority on Bushrod Island, demanding the authorities to license six Chinese Super trawlers to enable them to have job opportunities”, The New Dawn Liberia reported. The group alleged that the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) has decided to deny the six vessels permit to operate in Liberian waters, which could dampen their (seamen) employment hope.
Director-general of National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority, Emma Glassco has explained that “the six Chinese vessels have expired transit documents and lack documents authorizing them to fish in distant waters. Their authorization paper from the flag state, which is the People Republic of China, has expired. Now China, as a flag state, needed to issue these [trawlers] authorization to enable them to fish beyond China’s Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) or in distant water”
Similar concerns have been raised in Ghana after Chinese vessels-Yu Feng 1, 3, and 4 arrived and registered to the Ghanaian flag.
Going forward, how should African governments deal with Chinese vessels constantly seeking and competing for the over-capacity fishing spaces in Africa’s waters?