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Africa Rising: Sierra Leone, Liberia set up high-tech solutions to illegal fishing

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Illegal fishing has long plagued the waters off the coast of West Africa, where law enforcement is weak and fish stocks are relatively plentiful. But now governments in Sierra Leone and Liberia are stepping up their efforts to combat the practice. And for help they’re turning to some of the very people who are most affected by it: the artisanal fishermen who live along the coast.

Illegal fishing comes in many varieties, from trawling in the in-shore exclusion zone, to using forbidden fishing equipment, to deliberately destroying the nets of local fishermen. Whatever form it takes, illegal fishing is robbing these countries of a vital natural resource, and governments and communities alike are feeling the impact.

“[Illegal fishing] is estimated to be costing us around $30 million annually,” says Soccoh Kabia, Sierra Leone’s minister of fisheries and marine resources. “Certainly if we don’t do anything about it, it will get worse.”

The government of Sierra Leone is in the midst of overhauling its fisheries legislation to boost enforcement and improve its management of the sector; a new fisheries act should be on the books before the end of the year. Much of the legislation will focus on changes in the upper levels of government, but communities have a crucial role to play as well.

Here in Sierra Leone, the Environmental Justice Foundation, an advocacy group headquartered in Britain, is working with two dozen communities along the country’s southwestern coast to help local fishermen learn how to identify – and report – vessels that may be breaking the law right there in their backyard.

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