MOFAD Minister Pays Working Visit to Sierra Leone

The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Hon. Nayon Bilijo, has led a four-member delegation to Sierra Leone for bilateral discussions with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Development of Sierra Leone. The sector Minister for Sierra Leone, Capt. Momodu Allieu Pat-Sowe, received the delegation, which included the Chief Director of the Ministry, Mrs. Rebecca Amooh Aboagye and Mr. Samuel Quaatey Director of the Fisheries Commission. The delegation also included an Assistant Director from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Mr. Michael Nyaaba Assibi.

The Sierra Leonean visit was the first in a series of trips to be undertaken by the Hon. Minister to some selected African countries along the Gulf of Guinea region. These include countries such as Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo. The Minister explained on arrival that the visit aimed at initiating discussions with the countries for bilateral cooperation within the context of the various international and regional instruments on fisheries and aquaculture, for the development and management of their fisheries and aquaculture resources for mutual benefits.

According to the briefing, the bilateral cooperation agreements are expected to include fishing access arrangements which will make it easier for fishing companies in the respective countries to mutually obtain genuine fishing licenses from one another. This, it is hoped, will effectively address the problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is currently known to be seriously threatening Ghana’s tuna industry.

It is significantly noted that these bilateral agreements, which Ghana is initiating with the above countries would eventually lead to a multilateral framework that will compel the coastal states along the Gulf of Guinea region to benefit optimally from their respective fisheries and aquaculture resources.

Briefing the Sierra Leonean High Commissioner on arrival in free Town, Hon. Bilijo explained that throughout the world, fish stocks are on the decline. He revealed that Ghana was a major fish consumer, with 60% of her animal protein coming from fish. The country, he stated, was also a major exporter of fish within the West African sub-region, with tuna in particular, accounting for about 90% of all of her fish exports. He lamented that the absence of fishing access arrangements among countries along the Gulf of Guinea was leading to increased cases of IUU, which was threatening Ghana’s relatively booming tuna industry, hence, the necessity of the visit to the selected countries for bilateral engagements, beginning with Sierra Leone.

Technical Updates

The Director of Fisheries of Sierra Leone, Mr. Alpha Bangura, presented a technical update on the fisheries sector in Sierra Leone. He told the delegation that the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources accounts for about 10% of the GDP of Sierra Leone. He said the country has a long coastline which was not only a source of employment to the communities in the areas, but has also accounted for the fish stocks which made up nearly 90% of the protein requirements of Sierra Leoneans.

Bangura disclosed that Sierra Leone had close to 10,000 small vessels and canoes, and about 62 vessels in the industrial sector operating in the country’s waters. Sierra Leones’ Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, he noted, had 14 ferry operational units for surveillance purposes, and 4 centres for fish processing, now at various rudimentary stages.

He described drying as the main method of fish preservation in Sierra Leone, and identified low human resource capacity and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, as some of the problems facing the sector. Mr. Bangura ended his briefing by indicating that the problem of IUU was real and prevalent and was costing Sierra Leone an estimated USD$29 million in revenue annually.

The Director of the Fisheries Commission of Ghana, Mr. Samuel Quaatey, also gave a brief presentation on the present state of Ghana’s fisheries and aquaculture industry.

Hon. Nayon Bilijo Calls For Sustainable Management of Fisheries Resources

Disclosing his displeasure at the alarming rate at, which global fish stocks were reducing, Hon. Bilijo suggested that there was the urgent need to adopt sustainable fishing practices, particularly by countries along the Gulf of Guinea region which did not have existing capacities to readily develop alternative sources of fish stocks. He said as a way of redressing the problem, he had, presently embarked on bilateral initiative with the firm hope that it will lead to a multilateral effort aimed at maximizing the benefits of the fisheries resources of the countries along the Gulf of Guinea region.

Hon. Bilijo also gave a brief accounts on the tuna industry in Ghana and noted it as a huge resource, with great potentials for expansion. He recalled that not too long ago, the European Union placed a blockade on the export of tuna products from Ghana into the EU market due to allegations of IUU fishing practices. He informed the meeting that as a remedial action, his Ministry moved swiftly to investigate the matter after, which the fishing companies which were found culpable were dealt with in accordance with international fishing regulations.

His Ministry, he further noted, had also held two meetings with officials from the EU to discuss matters of common interest. He was certain that since April 2013, no IUU activity had been detected in the territorial waters of Ghana and expressed the hope that the measures put in place will rid the country of the malpractice. He, however, observed that no matter how perfect the measures Ghana would put in place to check IUU, the country, on its own could not fight the canker alone, unless a collective approach was deployed by member countries to confront it.

The Hon. Minister also observed that the main factor that allowed IUU to triumph among countries along the Gulf of Guinea was the absence of easy access to fishing permits and licenses. According to him, it was easier for European vessels to obtain licenses to fish in the territorial waters of countries along the Gulf than it was for countries of the region to do same. He was optimistic that if countries of the region cooperated, particularly in the area of granting access to fishing licenses, it will go a long way to reduce the incidence of IUU.

The Minister further noted with pain that even when fishing companies have succeeded in obtaining fishing licenses, the documents have sometimes turned out to be fakes when subjected to scrutiny. He attributed this to fraudsters in countries along the Gulf who dupes unsuspecting companies, thus, denying their countries the much-needed revenues from the grant of such licenses. He recommended that there should bilateral arrangements on easy access to fishing licenses among the countries in the region, which should eventually lead to multilateral frameworks to respond decisively to the problem of IUU.

Referring to the draft agreement on the general framework, for establishing the Permanent Joint Commission of Cooperation (PJCC), Hon. Bilijo expressed regret that there was no specific mention of the fisheries sector in the draft document, explaining that until early 2013, the Ministry of Fisheries was subsumed under the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. He therefore called on the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two countries to incorporate the sector into the draft document before it was finalized.

Touching on the importance of regional consensus on issues at international fora, Hon. Bilijo said the EU usually participates in conferences on fishing as a single bloc and wondered why countries along the Gulf of Guinea could not do same.

He lamented the situation where African countries served only as individual appendages of the powerful Western nations at international forums, instead of collectively adopting positions that served their interests. He noted, for instance, that when it came to the issue of IUU, the West African sub-region was labeled as a bloc, the reason the sub-region needed to adopt common positions based on its needs and peculiarities.

Hon. Bilijo stated the serious position Ghana has taken on aquaculture development, was mainly due to the lowering fish stocks and attributed this to the re-designation of his Ministry as the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development.

The Minister told his hosts that it was this determination to develop the aquaculture sub-sector that led to the country taking the unique and unwavering position not to implement the West Africa Fisheries Programme unless an aquaculture development component was added to it. He extended an invitation to his Sierra Leonean counterpart to visit Ghana to particularly understudy the country’s aquaculture development plans, which he said had chalked remarkable success.

Sierra Leone Praises Ghana’s Efforts

Sierra Leone has praised Ghana’s Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Hon. Nayon Bilijo for taking the initiative to visit sub-regional colleagues along the Gulf of Guinea to deepen bilateral cooperation, noting that most Ministers meet only at multilateral settings, which are usually not conducive for enhancing bilateral cooperation.

Capt. Pat Sowe, the Sierra Leonean Minister for Fisheries, has told his visiting Ghanaian counterpart, Hon. Nayon Bilijo, that the Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma, was committed to its Agenda for Change, which was the basis for the acquisition of a new modern vessel to patrol the territorial waters of the country.

His Government, he noted, had also committed to establishing the Fishing Institute for purposes of human resource capacity building. He informed the visiting Ghanaian delegation that due to acquisition of the latest surveillance and monitoring technologies by his office in the Ministry, it was possible for him to monitor the entire territorial waters of Sierra Leone using the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) that had been installed.

He nevertheless, submitted that without bilateral cooperation, there could still be gaps that could be exploited by recalcitrant operators. He noted, for instance, that without information-sharing, it was possible for a vessel that was labeled IUU in one West African country to be wrongly registered in a neighbouring country under a different name without being detected.

Capt. Pat-Sowe recalled that cooperation between Ghana and Sierra Leone went as far back as the independence era of the 1950s and early 60s, and assured that efforts will continue to be made to deepen the bond of friendship. He accepted the invitation of Hon. Bilijo to visit Ghana, admitting that the Ghanaian fishing industry was relatively better developed and could, therefore, serve as training grounds to Sierra Leoneans in that sector.

Sierra Leone Calls for Record Sharing With Ghana

Capt. Pat-Sowe called for records-sharing with Ghana on vessel information and licensing, as well as the linking of the Vessel Monitoring Systems of the two countries to enable them better police their waters. He lamented the absence of a fishing harbor complex in Sierra Leone and recommended that the bilateral cooperation should explore opportunities for the construction of a complex in his country.

Ghana and Sierra Leone to Develop MOU for Harmonized Fisheries Resource Management

At the end of the meeting the two leaders, signed a communiqué, which had been jointly prepared by the technical teams of the two countries, to seal the discussions of the day. The communiqué committed the two Ministries to the development of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the view to establishing a coordinated and harmonized approach to the sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources in their countries.

The MoU will focus on the following thematic areas:

  1. Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing;

  2. Promoting aquaculture development;

  3. Reducing post-harvest losses;

  4. Improving fisheries infrastructure especially fishing ports and habours;

  5. Establishing fishing access arrangements;

  6. Instituting information-sharing arrangements;

  7. Promoting institutional and human resource capacity-building; and

  8. Encouraging states in the sub-region to develop common regional positions on fisheries issues at international forums.

It was particularly recognized at the forum that national dynamics could change and priorities realigned, hence the need to sustain the momentum that has been created by the visit to fully exploit and achieve the expected outcomes. In that regard, it was recommended that the technical wing of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development in Ghana, prepares the draft MoU in collaboration with the office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice.

The draft document, according the agreed modalities, could then be forwarded to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration and the High Commission of Ghana in Freetown. Subsequent correspondence and reviews by both sides should lead to the finalization of the document for signing as soon as possible, according to the briefing.

The Minister and his entourage had since returned home.

[By James Azamesu,  the Public Relations Officer of the Fisheries Commission]