Monrovia – Liberia has been sternly warned by the European Union to tighten its screws against illegal fishing, being the world’s second biggest ship registry in the world with over 100 fishing vessels registered under its flag.
According to the EU, the national fisheries authorities do not have the information or means to control fleets under its flag.
This lack of control, according to the EU, has been confirmed by the listing of a Liberian vessel on the international "black list" last October.
Liberia has taken reform measures including the revision of its fisheries laws, but no tangible progress has followed.
The Commission hopes that the pre-identification will raise political awareness and encourage the country to implement the necessary reforms in fisheries governance, the EU noted.
The European Union on Tuesday also identified Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Comoros as non-cooperating third countries under the EU's regulation to fight and deter illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Liberia was pre-identified.
Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, commented: “We are showing our commitment to fight illegal fishing globally.
The EU's actions in the past years created an incentive for states to take their responsibilities seriously, and implement reforms to their fisheries sector.
"We do not like to impose sanctions on third countries, but sometimes clear action is needed."
"We invite the Comoros and Saint Vincent and Grenadines to seriously step up their fight against illegal fishing so that we can reverse this decision quickly. Following today's warning to Liberia, we hope their authorities choose to act quickly and correct their wrongdoings."
The decision to issue a red card to the Comoros is based on the typical use of its flag as flag of convenience, which means registering a ship in a sovereign state different from that of the ship's owners.
Most of the Comorian fleet has no connection to the country and operates in breach of national law, mainly in the waters of West Africa.
These vessels have been found to disregard the laws applicable in the national waters they operate in, trans-shipping fish from one vessel to another, a practice related to the laundering of illegal catches.
Despite receiving a yellow card in October 2015, and despite considerable effort by the European Commission to support this country in addressing the issue, no progress has been made.
Although the red card implies trade sanctions, in this particular case the decision will not impact on trade as the Comoros do not export fish to the EU.
However, EU vessels will no longer be allowed to take licenses to fish in their waters.
For Saint Vincent and the Grenadines the decision comes due to the lack of control by the authorities of vessels flying their flag.
These vessels operate all over the Atlantic and offload their catches in Trinidad and Tobago (which has already been warned in order to improve control over activities in its ports).
Effectively, these vessels elude any control over their activities. This raises the concern that they are involved in illegal practices.
Two vessels from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are already on the international vessel "blacklist" compiled by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.
Similarly to the Comoros, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines do not export fish to the EU.
The EU decision comes at a time President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is receiving a barrage of criticism for issuing Executive Order 84 which tends to half its Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ), currently reserved for artisanal fishermen, reducing it from six nautical miles to just three.
This will allow industrial vessels, including trawlers, to fish much closer to the shore.
The Environmental Justice Foundation (EFJ) warned the Liberian government that it risks undermining the country’s food security if it continues with its plan to allow industrial vessels greater access to fish in its coastal waters.
Reducing the exclusion zone would see an almost inevitable rise of competition from foreign industrial vessels fishing in coastal waters, and could put the livelihoods of the 33,000 people who rely on this industry at risk.
Moreover, as most foreign catch is exported overseas, the expected reduction in levels of fish being supplied to Liberia would threaten the food security of hundreds of thousands of citizens. The Community Management Association from Robertsport, representing artisanal fisherman in the region.
“We are extremely disappointed by the government’s decision to halve the IEZ. Since its introduction, the zone has helped local fishers see a huge increase in fish catch, and in our incomes.
By reducing the IEZ, the government will pave the way for industrial trawlers to re-enter our coastal waters and steal the fish that we rely on to feed our families.
Local fishing communities are now mobilizing together to urge the government to reverse this damaging decision, which, if it goes ahead, will put local fishermen, their families and the entire country’s food security at risk.”
Liberia’s coastal waters are also a vital spawning and breeding ground for many species of fish. Allowing trawlers so close to the coast would endanger the region’s fragile marine ecosystems, further compromising the long-term sustainability of fish stocks in Liberian waters. EJF Executive Director Steve Trent said: “By removing the six nautical mile limit, the Liberian government is favoring short-term economic interests over the needs of its people.
The limit underpins the sustainability of the fisheries that provide vital food, livelihoods, and incomes for hundreds of thousands of Liberians. Removing it threatens the very survival of these fisheries and the well-being of all those who depend on them.”
The Commission's decisions taken today are the result of thorough analyses, following informal and formal discussions with the relevant authorities in each country.
The Commission has proposed to Liberia a tailor-made action plan and estimates the identified issues can be resolved in six months.
The Comoros and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines received action plans when they were pre-identified (in October 2015 and December 2014, respectively).
Ongoing dialogue and support will encourage these countries to step up their efforts to fully implement these action plans.
Fighting illegal fishing is part of the EU's commitment to ensuring the sustainable use of the sea and its resources under the EU Common Fisheries Policy and in the context of promoting better governance of the oceans worldwide.
The Commission attaches great importance to cooperation with third countries. The EU support helps these countries strengthen their fight against IUU fishing.