October 20, 2015 By Memunatu Bangura
The wharf at Goderich on the western axis of the Freetown peninsula is one of the largest fishing hubs in the Western Area. Artisanal fishermen and fishmongers arrive at the wharf every morning to elk out their living and to contribute to the local economy.
Fishing is one of few livelihood alternatives for young men in the Goderich community. It may not be the safest option, but nevertheless gives thousands a means to eke a daily living in a community where formal jobs are scarce to come by and where the average community youth drops out of school early. This does not come as a surprise as fishing in Goderich has become a tradition for many residents as generations take after their forebears in the business of fishing.
But for many fishermen and boat owners at Capital Wharf in Goderich the day’s activity includes competition with fishing vessels/trawlers which fish out at sea. The two have identical goals – to catch a big haul of fish – yet their distinctive method of fishing is a potential source of content.
While fishermen use dugout canoes to deploy their nets beneath the water to catch fish, the big trawlers go out at sea to drop their net. Well, that is what is supposed to be the case. But the truth is, the latter sometimes come very close to the shore, thus interfering with nets laid by fishermen. This poses a flashing point for conflict between two competing livelihood groups.
The harbour master at the wharf, Mohamed Conteh, explains that fishing vessels have destroyed more than five boats, with fishing nets worth millions of Leones having been damaged in recent weeks alone.
Conteh says local fishermen have also collided with the big fishing vessels at sea, causing boats to capsize. He says whenever the fishing vessels collide with boats they will neither stop to check the damage nor rescue passengers who risk drowning, but instead continue their voyage.
“Every boat at the wharf is registered and licensed with the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration (SLMA), so they are operating legally in the territorial waters of Sierra Leone,” he says, adding that they have reported the issue to the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration whose mandate it is to register boats and grant licenses to trawlers to fish in the country’s waters, but nothing has been done to prevent the ugly incidents at sea.
“We pay our charges to the SLMA and we have right to engage in fishing on the shores of Sierra Leone, but our complaints are not taken into consideration,” Conteh laments.
Abu Sankoh, one of the affected fishermen, says for the second time in as many months his fishing net has been destroyed by fishing trawlers, claiming that the net is about seven hundred yards and worth over one million Leones. He complains that the fishing vessels have no specific time to go out at sea and that they are disrupting the activities of artisanal fishermen.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) recognises the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and maintains that such mode of fishing is a crime and authorises sanctions against any country or company that engages in the act.
Local fisheries law does not permit fishing vessels to fish within 35 nautical miles of the Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ). It also forbids vessels to fish on its waters without a permit or flags of convenience.
However, due to lack of monitoring capacity, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources cannot detect fishing vessels that violate the law. Thus local fishing communities like those in Goderich are feeling the full impact of illegal fishing by trawlers which, because of inadequate capacity by the ministry responsible, has been left to continue.
Therefore, for Sorie Kamara, who says he has no other means of livelihood but to fish at the wharf, this incessant disruption by fishing vessels is having a negative impact on him and his family.
As breadwinner of his family and largely dependent on fishing, Kamara pleads with the government to address the matter and take necessary steps to remedy the situation, including to allocate time to registered fishing vessels to ply the waters.