Contrary to claims by some fishing vessel agents that the implementation of various reforms by the ministry of fisheries and marine resources to curb illegal fishing is responsible for the shortage of fish in the country, the fisheries minister, Dr. Soccoh Kabia, said the shortage is as a result of the inability of many artisanal fishermen to go to sea regularly because of its rough state.
There were reports that few of these agents have been inciting market women and some youths to make noise that the minister is responsible for the fish scarcity through his purported reforms in the ministry.
But the minister refutes the claims saying that the introduction and enforcement of reforms such as the vessels monitoring systems VMS, marine protected areas MPAs and the port state measures - an international protocol signed by Sierra Leone in 2009, are all being implemented as part of the laws in the Fishing Act of 2004 which are meant to prevent, deter and eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources and marine ecosystems.
"There is a shortage of fishes in the market. But it is always like that at this time of the year," the minister said. "This gap in supply is as a result of the sea being very rough at this time of the year because of the rain. This hinders artisanal fishermen from going regularly to the sea."
Dr. Kabia added that his ministry has no trawler for which to engage in fishing activities and that the agents have been misleading the market women and youths because they want his ministry to slacken its reforms which are geared towards national benefits as the individual interests of vessels that conduct illegal fishing are being affected.
"Since I came to the ministry, I've been committed to achieving the agenda for change which is the roadmap for the transformation of this ministry and we have seen positive results already. The annual potential of revenue that could be generated from these resources is worth $100 million but we are getting less because of poor management."
The minister noted that his ministry plans to buy two patrol boats through the World Bank and one patrol boat will soon be donated to Sierra Leone by the government of Isle of Man.
"We've raised so much in the last one year. We're now benefitting now. Last year we raised Le37 billion for the country, we'll continue to empower Sierra Leone to make money from the fishing sector. It can be done. It has been done in other countries," he said adding that his ministry was able to raise more than $1 million in fines last year, and for the first time in its history, the ministry fined a trawler about $732,000 once.
However, contingency steps are said to be taken by the ministry by agreeing with some companies to supply the domestic market with fishes as a matter of urgency. The effect of this effort is expected to be seen in the next few days.
Few Kroo Town Road market women who spoke to Concord Times admit that the rough sea is the key factor that necessitated the shortage of fishes in the market. They explained that prices of available fishes have increased slightly as a result. Henry fish which was sold for Le370,000 per carton is now sold for Le400,000, the Chinese fishes which used to sell for Le150,000 for a carton now costs Le170,000, while a crate of nine dozens of Snaper fishes costs Le400,000.