In post-civil war Sierra Leone, unemployment is widespread and poverty rife. According to United nations figures, about 70 % of the country’s 5.3 million population live below the poverty line.
The Sierra Leone Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources estimates that about 80,000 in the country make a living through fishing and fish in general has always been a cheap source of protein in the local diet.
According to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a London-based independent pressure group for environmental security and human rights, however, Sierra Leone loses about $29 million a year on account of illegal and unregulated fishing, whereas neighbors Guinea and Liberia lose about $110 million and $10 million respectively.
Many local fishermen, who pay license fees to the government to ply their trade, complain that trawlers have become a problem in recent years, accusing the ‘industrial people’ of cutting their nets deliberately. They also lament the fact that the Sierra Leone government seems to favor the foreigners.
The Fisheries Ministry, however, which has granted rights to Chinese, Russian and Egyptian trawlers, denies this and has introduced an ‘insured exclusive zone’ for local fishermen, though it admits to logistic difficulties in enforcing the measure.