Sierra Leone, like many countries in West Africa, is well-endowed with natural resources including mineral ores, forests and fish stocks, which could form the basis of a productive economy and a prosperous society. However, Sierra Leone’s development track-record since independence in 1960 has been relatively weak, and despite some improvements since the end of the civil war in 2002, it is one of the poorest countries in the world.
There can be no doubt that improving upon this performance is critically important for economic recovery during the current post-Ebola period.
The current analysis focuses on the contribution of fisheries to the national economy, and the factors which will enable or constrain this relationship. The initial entry-point point, therefore, will be to examine the potential sustainable economic value of the exploitable fish stocks.
It is known that productive and well-managed fisheries can make an important sustainable contribution to economic growth.
Countries with strong economic growth, coupled with good governance, in general, also show an increase in prosperity, social welfare and poverty reduction. Fisheries play a wider roll in the economy and for the benefit of all citizens of a country. The direct benefits associated with participation in fisheries (e.g. food supply, employment, income) have already been well-documented in Sierra Leone and many other countries in West Africa by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, for example.
Managing fisheries for the benefit of all citizens requires a different type of policy approach, one which looks beyond the conventional boundaries of the sector that recognises the hitherto undervalued potential wealth of fish resources, which utilises innovative and proven methods of fisheries management, that includes all fishery types and scales of activity, and which seeks to strengthen linkages between fisheries and other parts of the wider economy. These themes are coherent with the new concepts of the “Blue Economy” and “Blue Growth”.
The current Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Elizabeth Manns have vowed to continue to increase revenue as well as keep the illegal fishing outside of Sierra Leone.
She said this industry is very viable and account for more than 15% of the country’s GDP. Madam Manns said they will continue to stop illegal fishing and they will put more emphasis on all fishing company to do the right thing.
Sierra Leone has a diverse and valuable array of fish stocks in marine and inland environments, which are exploited mainly through fishing and a limited number of aquaculture systems.
According to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), the current total annual fisheries production is about 150,000 tonnes. The marine artisanal fishing sub-sector, characterized by small-scale, inshore, low technology operations, accounts for the bulk of this catch (120,000t, valued [first sale only] at USD100 million per year).
The marine industrial fishing sub-sector catches an estimated 24,000t (valued at USD25 million per year). Both inland fisheries and aquaculture production are relatively small in comparison.
It should be noted that the official statistics use a set of financial indicator values (e.g. gross catch value based on first sale market prices and landings, costs are not included).
While this approach provides a good starting point for understanding the value of the sector (assuming that the basic catch and market statistics are accurate), the next level of analysis is needed to better understand the performance of the sector, and its contribution to the economy overall.
The fisheries sector is estimated to provide employment and a source of livelihoods for over 500,000 people, mainly in coastal communities. Fish is the most important source of animal protein for the majority of the population.
Annual fish exports are valued at USD2.5 million and fishing licence fees amount to USD2.5 million per year.
In terms of domestic revenue collection by the Government of Sierra Leone, the fisheries sector contributed USD34 million (1 per cent of total revenue) in 2014. This represents a doubling of the revenue collected in 2013.
The contribution of the fisheries sector to GDP in Sierra Leone was estimated to be 10.2 per cent in 2013. The largest contribution came from agriculture, hunting and forestry (42.5 per cent) and then mining (11.6 per cent).
GDP figures underestimate the economic importance of the fish resources, because fisheries sector GDP is restricted to fish catching activities alone. The GDP generated by downstream secondary economic activities such as fish processing and trading which depend on healthy fish stocks are attributed to other sectors of the economy.
The MFMR has overall responsibility for the sector. Until recently, fisheries policy focused on increasing production (the physical weight of fish landed) through technological improvements in catching methods (new boats and fishing gear), although the importance of fisheries management is now also being emphasised.