Fishing communities in Sierra Leone have been hit hard by illegal and unregulated fishing off the West African coast. Unsustainable local fishing practices and the activities of foreign trawlers engaged in so-called “pirate fishing” have led to a significant decline in fish stocks in Sierra Leone, environmental groups and local officials say.
Despite a recent clamp-down on illegal fishing, local fishermen say their catches have been reduced drastically since the onset of the country’s 11-year civil war which ended in 2002. Samuel Bangura, the harbour master at Tombo fishing village on the Freetown peninsula, voiced concern over the current state of fishing in Sierra Leone.
“Boats are having to go further and further out to catch fish… In the 1980s we used to just take five gallons of fuel, now we take up to 40 gallons, and sometimes the boats don’t come back until past midnight.”
A recent drive by UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation and other organizations to combat pirate fishing in Sierra Leone has had some success. “Before, pirate fishing was rampant, but now most of the vessels have left the inshore exclusion zone,” said Victor Kargbo, head of the country’s Fisheries Protection Unit.
But local fishermen also complain of unsustainable fishing methods used by fellow artisanal fishermen. These include the use of dynamite and illegal “draw-chain” fishing with fine-meshed nets, a practice said to devastate juvenile fish populations.