October 1, 2022

By Ilyasa Baa
Illegal poaching by rogue Chinese vessels over the past months in the Exclusion Zone, demarcated for the benefit of local fishermen, has tremendously affected the lives of fishing families and the general public that largely depend on fishing for nutrition support.
Investigations carried out by the local and international press have revealed that rogue foreign vessels have developed the habit of clandestinely fishing at night in the waters meant for the local market, thereby stealing the main source of nutrients for such fishing communities and by extension the general populace. These illegal activities have also led to the destruction of fishing nets, which are too expensive for our fishermen to replace.
These nefarious activities have reportedly frustrated a good number of fishmongers, who venture into the wharf on a daily basis to make ends meet for their families. They serve as middle men in the local fishing trade. They buy from the fishermen who sell in various markets where the rest of mankind, especially the less privileged, can buy and cook for their survival.
Mariatu Kamara, a fishmonger in Tombo, with over thirty years’ experience in the trade, revealed to nightwatch that her husband took over two weeks in sea and was not able to bring home an appreciable catch. She continued that her customers in Waterloo and other markets in the city could not get the supplies they used to get from her for some time now.
She noted that this has seriously affected monies they had reserved to do the business.
Nurse Isata Swarray of Devil Hole described the fish shortage as unprecedented. She said the looming shortage can affect pregnant women and lactating mothers who need fish to make their babies grow fast. She said fish is the most affordable nutritious food most Sierra Leonean women can afford to supplement their food balance.
The current situation needs a more robust attention, more than what the Ministry of Marine Resources has done, by placing an ultimatum on large scale fishing for a certain period of time, after these industrial vessels had plundered peoples’ source of livelihood with impunity.
The Maritime wing or personnel at Tombo cannot solve the situation as if their hands are tied behind their backs. Again, to be honest, these naval guys cannot be blamed for the incessant poaching activities carried out by the foreign vessels.
However, it was the expectation of fishermen as well as fishmongers that the New Direction government of Brig. Julius Maada Bio should have been able to solve the illegal poaching in the seas of the country. The navy is currently left in the cold with inadequate equipment to go after those sophisticated Chinese vessels, which shut down their lights at night to disguise from being noticed. How can these rogue vessels be captured or even seen when our gallant personnel don’t have the means, like other countries that are serious about protecting their seas?
The Ministry of Marine Resources is also expected to help provide the required fishing nets recommended by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
The minister had paraded all the wharfs in the rural and urban fishing communities where she found out that there is the need for the replacement of fishing nets used by local fishermen.
According to the Harbor Masters of Tombo and Tokeh in the Peninsular, fishermen in these areas are tired of waiting for the Minister to honor her fishing nets’ promise. Even if these nets are supplied to the beneficiaries, they would be counter- productive if the navy is not equipped to handle the situation; capture and punish the law breakers, accordingly.
The glories of Tombo and Tokeh, in so far as fish is concerned, are fast fading away and, due to the poor catch, women who have survived all this while through fish selling are having a second thought as whether to wait till the situation improves or quit the trade for better replacement to enable them feed their families this rainy season.