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Fish Stocks Dwindling in Front of their Eyes

Every day, about 13,000 small boats cast off from Sierra Leone’s 506km coastline. Fisheries employ 500,000 of the west African nation’s nearly 8 million people, represent 12% of the economy and are the source of 80% of the population’s protein consumption. But a dozen fishermen interviewed by the Guardian say their catch is dwindling rapidly due to sustained overfishing on a large scale. Tombo’s fishing community put the blame squarely on foreign fleets. About 40% of industrial licences are owned by Chinese vessels; though legal, locals say they pay meagre fees for their permits, under-declare their catch and add little to the local economy. Those in Tombo who have protested at the illegal fishing say they face violence from the crews. At the same time, illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing is a huge problem, costing Sierra Leone $50m a year, President Julius Maada Bio said in 2018. Efforts to manage the sector, including the creation of an inshore exclusion zone that prohibits all but subsistence fishing in the six nautical miles closest to shore, installing movement trackers on industrial trawlers and creating community fishing associations to promote sustainability, have so far had limited impact due to policing and funding challenges, according to officials. A month-long ban on industrial fishing in 2019 was criticised as being too short to allow stocks to replenish.