Weeks after President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf issued Executive Order #84 for the regulation of Liberia's fishing industry, the European Union (EU) has expressed concern over the order.
In a letter to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the EU expressed concern over the implications of Executive Order number 84.
It further said it was surprised to learn about the order through the media considering the longstanding cooperation existing between Liberia and the Union which culminated in the signing of the EU- Liberia Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) in December 2015.
Through its Ambassador to LiberiaMadam TiinaIntelmann, the EU said based onexperience in other countries, it believes that some of the measuresintroduced under Section 2 of the EO will not lead to sustainable investments.
It noted that the Executive Order #84 will lead to accelerated depletion of current fish stocks, resulting in reduced economic opportunities in the sector and increased food insecurity.
In the letter, EU made specific reference to Section 2.b of the Order that talks about reduction of Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ) as established by the Fisheries Regulations of 2010 from 6 nautical miles to 3 nautical miles to ensure that industrial and semi-industrial fishing can restart and become viable, as well as section 2.c which also talks about cumulative stock of fishery resources to be harvested shall not exceed 100,000 metric tons per annum.
According to the EU, the measures do not appear to be based on the precautionary approach of the FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing.
The EU noted that experience in other countries has demonstrated that this type of measure risks jeopardizing fish stocks, artisanal fisher men's livelihoods, amplified vulnerability of livelihoods and food security in the country, as well as little economic value for Liberia.
The EU pointed out that the best way to ensure the viability of industrial and semi-industrial fishing is to strictly adhere to scientifically sound sustainability principles, which include the enforcement of a sufficient IEZ and a system of quotas based on a fish stock assessment.
The Union further criticized Section 2.b of the Executive Order that talks about exemption of all APM Terminal and other Ports handling charges for fishing vessels below 500 gross tons, and 2.e for revision guidelines and fiscal regime for obtaining Fishery License.
It said these measures will be a subsidy to foreign vessels that will have little or no economic significance for Liberia, adding "we also believe these measures will likely open the door to undesirable operators who will be looking for new fishing opportunities when neighboring countries take measures to reduce overfishing in their waters or increase licensing fees."
Regarding the transfer of an interim overall responsibility for the Bureau of NationalFisheries from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA), the EU said it would have rather welcomed a swift approval of the draft Fisheries Act by the Legislature.
EU: "We would appreciate more information about the rationale for this decision and the impact ofit on other pieces of legislation. In our understanding, the Ministry of Agriculture and LiMAhave very different mandates, and the Natural Resources Law created BNF under MoA as theregulatory body for the fisheries sector."
Ambassador Intelmann recalled that since 2015, the European Union has been cooperating with Liberia in the fight against Illegal,unreported and unregulated fishing, noting that one of the problems identified during this dialogue was the fact that Liberia's internationally operating fishing vessels and reefers are not controlled by the competent authority.
The EU said while Executive Order 84 could be viewed as a solution to this problem, it does not believe it will solve the problem unless it is accompanied by real task allocation within LIMA.
The European Union told the president that it looks forward to receiving more information so that it can judge the impact of the Executive Order on the fight against IUU fishing.
The letter said at the specific request of the Government, the European Union recently contracted a Technical Assistant to support the management of the Bureau of National Fisheries, amongst other things in the implementation of the Fisheries Act. However, it said the opportunity and the Terms of Reference of this support will have to be re-discussed in light of the changes introduced by EO #84.
Moreover, the European Union said it has also committed to supporting the fisheries sector with7 million EUR allocated under the EU-Liberia Agriculture Program.
However, it said in light of the recent developments, DG DEVCO has confirmed that the Delegation should hold the design of this program until the roles and responsibilities, and the impact of EO #84 are fully clarified, saying "the European Union made these funds available on the basis of the 2015 Liberia food security assessment which found that more than half of the population still suffers from food insecurity and that fish is the main source of protein in the country. Our joint developmental objectives are put at risk by the relaxation of the sector governance introduced with the new Executive Order."
The European Union said it remains available to provide all additional information and to continue the dialogue with the Liberian authorities, noting that a meeting between competent services of the EU (DG MARE) and Liberia's Ambassador to European Union took place in Brussels on May 11, 2017, while the regular Joint Committee of the EU-Liberia Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement which will take place between June 7th and 9th in Brussels will provide an additional opportunity for dialogue.
The letter said EU delegation in Monrovia will also remain engaged in the process and will welcome any opportunity for further clarification with regard to its support projects.