Monrovia – Fishermen and fish retailers in Liberia have welcomed the protection of sharks and rays found within Liberia’s territorial waters.
Liberia has taken a historic step to commit to a national plan of action to protect Liberia’s sharks and rays in the next three years.
The fishermen’s commendation comes in the wake of the Liberian government’s decision to launch the National Plan of Action (NPOA) to conserve and manage sharks and rays.
Government, through the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NAFAA), said the action plan will not only make the country a leader in ocean conservation in West Africa, it will also help safeguard the food security and livelihoods of tens of thousands of Liberians.
The NAFAA has asked the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) to help implement the plan.
Deputy Director General for Technical Services of Liberia’s NaFAA, William Boeh, said the implementation of the plan will take place over the next three years.
“We, the people of Liberia most especially here at NAFAA are very proud and excited to announce that today we formally welcome and commit to EJF’s report recommendations to implement on a national action to sustainably manage and conserve sharks and rays no later than 7th of January 2019, and to have a finalized sharks and ray fishery management plan with concrete measures within a three year time-scale.”
He said currently Liberia has inadequate monitoring of its shark fisheries, with no management plan and legislation.
He noted that the plan of action is much needed for the sustainable management and conservation of sharks and rays.
He said by implementing the plan of action that focuses on twelve species of critical concern, Liberia as a coastal state within in the region, will be considered as a leader in the marine species management and conservation.
The announcement comes after EJF shared a report with NaFAA laying out the benefits of sustainably managing sharks and rays to Liberian coastal communities and marine ecosystems.
Sharks and rays play a vital role in the health of many marine habitats.
Amdeep Sanghera, EJF Liberia Country Coordinator says loss of sharks can lead to dramatic imbalances in the ecosystem that can cause the degradation of coral reefs and destruction of seagrass beds, both of which provide important nursery habitats for young fish.
“This is particularly significant in Liberia, where 33,000 people rely on the fishing industry for their livelihoods, and 65% of all animal protein eaten comes from seafood.”
He said in Liberia, while data is especially sparse, EJF’s monitoring at West Point between 2013 and 2016 recorded 19 species, all of which are found on the red list of ‘Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.’
In Liberia, sharks and rays are threatened by both industrial and small-scale traditional fishing fleets, and illegal fishing practices are particularly damaging to their populations, Amdeep Sanghera report says.
“These animals currently lack any form of legal protection in Liberia, but the implementation of an effective national plan of action, with wide-ranging consultations with local fishing communities, could safeguard their future in these waters.”
“Undertaking this bold commitment to act now to conserve its threatened sharks and rays highlights not only strong national governance but also confirms Liberia as an emerging leader on marine conservation in the region and in the eyes of the world.
“EJF looks forward to working with the Liberian government to help make implementation of the national plan a success,” said Sanghera, EJF’s coordinator for the project.
It is particularly important that the national plan of action prioritizes certain species that are in urgent need of protection, EJF’s report asserted.
Sharks and rays play crucial roles in the health of the coastal ecosystems that provide food and livelihood to fishing communities around the world.
In Liberia, over 33,000 people are directly dependent on the traditional small-scale artisanal fishing sector that is supported by shark and ray fisheries.
Local fisher men in Liberia have also promised to work with the EJF in the protection of sharks and ray in the Liberian water.
Sam Kolleh, 43, has been in the fishing business for over 15 years at the King Gray Beach outside Monrovia. He and his crew have killed over five sharks in the years they have fished.
He told FrontPageAfrica that he wouldn’t have hunted sharks if he knew that the species were important to the ecosystem.
“They supposed to educate us long time that killing shark not good,” he explained.
Kolleh said they had to end the fishing of sharks due to the difficulties involve in catching them.
“We can’t go fishing for them again because they are hard to catch, we have to wait when it is sunset or before the sunset on deep sea, that’s when they get hungry and come out to hunt, we either use smaller fish or fresh meat because they get attracted to blood,” he explained.
For her part, Ms. Janjay Morris, 41, who has also been in the sale or retail of fish, has welcomed the idea of protecting sharks and rays.
“Though the shark is sweet and many people love to eat it, it is hard to get them from beaches so there is no need for even killing them. For me I don’t have problem for stopping the killing of shark,” she explained.
Meanwhile, EJF is calling for all countries to require vessels to show documentation for their catch and they should levy appropriate penalties against vessels discarding the law.
If adequately enforced this would act as a deterrent against vessels dumping bycatch back in the ocean.
The Environmental Justice Foundation is a UK-based charity working internationally to protect the environment and defend human rights. EJF is a charity registered in England and Wales.