Sierra Leone has a 300-kilometer long coastline with a sizeable continental shelf (covering an area of over 25,000 square kilometers and a width of up to 140 kilometers in the north) that is fed by substantial rivers and rainfall, providing the basic elements for extremely productive marine fisheries. As a result, the country has considerable resources of: (i) shrimp, (ii) cephalopods (cuttlefish and octopus), (iii) lobster, (iv) demersal fish species (croakers, snappers, catfish, groupers), (v) small pelagic species (herring-like species, bonga) and (vi) large pelagics (tuna, barracudas) – all of which have well-established global markets with high prices. Based on these resources, the fisheries sector provides direct employment to some 100,000 persons and indirect employment to some 500,000 persons (almost 10 percent of the population). More specifically, in coastal areas some 25 percent of the male population of working age is reported to be involved in fishing at least part-time. Lastly, according to the PRSP the sector contributes almost 10 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP).
By 2006 the trend in the fisheries was a significant increase in the small-scale catch, from a level consistently between 40,000 to 50,000 tons during the 1980s and 1990s, to a total of roughly 120,000 tons in 2006. At the same time, the catch of the industrial fisheries declined significantly during the 1990s, from a peak of 150,000 tons in 1989 down to some 15,000 tons in the few years thereafter, and remaining consistently between 13,000 to 15,000 tons today. However, as Sierra Leone is not certified by the European Union for exports (nor is there a dedicated fishing port), the volume of industrial fish caught in the country’s waters may be much higher, as most is transshipped to Las Palmas for entry to the European markets. Local fishing companies buy the fish that the foreign fleet is obliged to sell locally, and distribute the frozen catch locally or regionally (Liberia, Ghana).
The small-scale fisheries may not be actively managed, while the mostly foreign-owned industrial fleet is licensed by the Government, with license fees equivalent to roughly 10 percent of the value of the reported industrial catch. Habitat degradation (by trawling) and destructive gears (driftnets and beach seines with illegal small mesh sizes that capture juveniles) are having an important impact on the fragile coastal areas that serve as nursery grounds for shrimp and fish species. Partially as a result, the majority of valuable demersal fish species are either fully or overexploited (for example most species of croakers). As an illustration of this, the trends in catch-per-unit-effort of both fish trawlers and shrimp trawlers are downward over the last decade and a half.
The key issues appear to be (i) the entire sector is not well managed and provides substantially lower returns than it could be, (ii) destructive fishing gears and practices (such as inshore shrimp trawling, and beach seines and drift nets with small mesh sizes) are damaging sensitive nursery grounds and capturing juveniles species, (iii) reportedly substantial levels of illegal fishing, (iv) a majority of the fish caught by industrial vessels is transshipped at sea for export, with no local value added or export benefits, because there is not sufficient infrastructure nor EU-certified quality control, (v) the Ministry of Fisheries has a limited number of experienced staff, but organization and management of its tasks are ineffective, (vi) the capacity and funding of fisheries research is limited, and (vii) the potential for increased fishing effort and catch presents a risk of boom and bust if more effective management conditions are not first in place. More specifically, future licensing strategies for the industrial fleet need to combine the need to rebuild the over-exploited shrimp stocks, enhance the effectiveness of MCS, notably in the coastal zone and the fact that the single industrial fisheries jetty – currently being rebuilt – will only be accessible to the vessels of the single largest domestic fishing company.
The development objective of the West Africa Regional Fisheries Program is to sustainably increase the overall wealth generated by the exploitation of the targeted marine fish resources in the participating countries (Cape Verde, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone), and the proportion of that wealth captured by these countries. The rationale behind this objective is that while the countries of West Africa are endowed with valuable and shared marine fish stocks, this natural capital is currently providing the region with far lower economic and social returns than it could be, due in large part to overexploitation and subsequent depletion of the resources by both legal and illegal operators. At the same time, the returns that the resources currently provide accrue mostly to foreign countries and fleets. This is because so much of the fish caught in West Africa’s waters is not landed and processed in the region, but rather is taken directly to foreign ports where further value is added and jobs are created. These constraints, i.e. the: (i) low capacity of countries to sustainably manage the marine fish resources and prevent their overexploitation, particularly by illegal fishing vessels, and the (ii) foreign and offshore legal harvesting of the resources that yields only a fraction of their benefits to local economies, characterize West Africa’s fisheries today. Overcoming these challenges presents a significant opportunity for the region to sustainably increase the wealth from one of its largest sources of natural capital, and provides the rationale for the Program’s objective and design which are to ensure good governance and sustainable management of the fisheries, reduction of illegal fishing and ensuring an increased local value addition to fish products.
In order to achieve its objectives, there are four components of the WARF project in Sierra Leone: (a) Good governance and sustainable management of the fisheries (b) Reduction of illegal fishing and (c) Ensuring an increased local value addition to fish products, (d) Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation and Program Management.
To sustainably increase the overall wealth generated by the exploitation of the targeted marine fish resources in Sierra Leone thus facilitating the proportion of that wealth captured by the country in order to ensure that the fish resources are used in a manner that is environmentally sustainable, socially equitable and economically profitable.
The West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme is a World Bank funded project that is coordinated by the Regional Coordination Unit at the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) Office in Dakar, Senegal and being implemented by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
The initial phase of the project is 5 years with possible extension to another five years.
West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme in Sierra Leone (WARFP-SL)
King Harman Road
Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources,
7th Floor Youyi Building