The fisheries sector, once a key source of Sierra Leone’s exports, already accounts for around 10% of the country’s GDP and employs around 500,000 people. Given its exceptional potential, the fishing industry has been targeted as a priority growth sector in the President’s Agenda for Change. Sierra Leone’s coastal waters are known to have the largest numbers of fish as well as the largest species of fish in West Africa; during the war years, there was little fishing activity there and stocks of fish have increased.
Dr. Soccoh Kabia, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, explains that annual revenues for the fisheries sector once totalled 2 billion leones (€354,298 euros) but that the sector generated 12.5 billion leones (€2.21 million) in the first half of 2010 alone. “This demonstrates the tremendous potential that this sector has here in Sierra Leone. We aim to export fish products regionally but over the long term we are targeting global markets as well,” he points out.
Foreign investors are welcome in Sierra Leone’s fisheries sector. Dr. Soccoh Kabia says, “We are seeking foreign capital and know-how. We especially want to attract long-term investors willing to share their expertise with local communities and participate in the bright future of Sierra Leone.”
The Ministry of Fisheries has developed three programmes designed to boost the development of the fisheries sector. These include stepping up freshwater fishing and aqua culture in order to provide sustainable, affordable quantities of fish for Sierra Leone’s rural population, 80% of whom depend on fish as their primary source of protein. Another programme aims to establish a semi industrial fishing sub sector operating in the country’s inland waters.
Controlling illegal fishing
The third programme concerns industrial fishing and is designed not only to develop thriving industrial fishing activities in Sierra Leone but also to meet the challenge of controlling illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, which analysts estimate causes the loss to Sierra Leone of around US$ 30 million (€22.3 million) in revenues per year.
One of the ministry’s bold moves designed to deal with this problem was to end Sierra Leone’s relationship with the international ship registry, which registers international fishing vessels to fly the Sierra Leone flag. The ministry also plans to organise an international conference on combating illegal fishing in collaboration with the Environmental Justice Foundation.
Sierra Leone will put a number of other measures in place to control illegal fishing, including requiring ships flying the Sierra Leone flag to be inspected in Sierra Leone, where inspectors will make sure the ships are not using banned types of nets and all ships will be checked by the maritime administration.
Promoting international investment
The Ministry of Fisheries also plans to adopt more initiatives to promote international investment and partnerships in Sierra Leone’s fishing sector. Dr. Soccoh Kabia says that Sierra Leone welcomes investments in fish processing, adding value, general infrastructure, and helping Sierra Leone meet EU and international standards concerning fish products. Investors can be awarded fishing rights for three years, with the requirement that they use Sierra Leone’s fish resources sustainably and legally.
The government is investing in new infrastructure for the fishing industry, including fish processing plants, dry dock facilities, vessel repair operations and a new fishing port budgeted at around US$64 million (€47.6 million). Sierra Leone received US$15 million (€11.2 million) in financial support from the African Development Bank’s fisheries project, which the government used to build modern fish handling centres.
Dedicated to meeting EU standards
The EU demands that Sierra Leone meet 10 criteria before it can resume fish exports to EU markets; Sierra Leone has already met half of them and plans to meet the rest this year. As Dr. Soccoh Kabia points out, “EU standards for fish products are very high, but necessarily so. We are training our people concerning fish handling and we are very close to reaching all the EU criteria. Sierra Leone has lobster and other fish products which are highly prized in European markets.”
Sierra Leone recently updated its regulations for the fishing industry to bring them up to international standards – in particular the UN Law of the Sea – and to make them more investor friendly. Dr. Soccoh Kabia explains, “In addition to our more modern regulatory regime for the fisheries industry, we have also instituted a number of new investment incentives, including tax holidays and reduced licensing fees. We have created a very business friendly environment in our fisheries sector as well as in other sectors.”
Dr. Soccoh Kabia, who is a physician and formerly served as Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health, is dedicated to supporting development which benefits the people of Sierra Leone. He says, “We are building capacity, and we have exceptional resources, including our human resources. We welcome long- term investors who can help us take advantage of our great potential.”