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NOAA Observer Training Program helps Liberia combat illegal fishing activities

Liberian fishery observers Patrick O. Gbasu, Yarkpawolo K. Johnson, Mildred M. Morris, Krubo M. Jallah, Andrew Topka, Austin S. Wehye Jr. and Abraham N. Saah learn to measure sea turtles as part of the 2011 fishery observer training program sponsored by NOAA, the Liberian government and the World Bank's West African Regional Fisheries Program. (Teresa Turk/NOAA)Liberian fishery observers Patrick O. Gbasu, Yarkpawolo K. Johnson, Mildred M. Morris, Krubo M. Jallah, Andrew Topka, Austin S. Wehye Jr. and Abraham N. Saah learn to measure sea turtles as part of the 2011 fishery observer training program sponsored by NOAA, the Liberian government and the World Bank's West African Regional Fisheries Program.

A Liberian artisanal vessel returns from fishing to a beach outside Monrovia, Liberia. (Teresa Turk/NOAA)A Liberian artisanal vessel returns from fishing to a beach outside Monrovia, Liberia.

Liberian fishery observers Josiah O. Botoe and Dehcorti C. Karmo talk with a local fisherman during a field trip to a fishing village. (Teresa Turk/NOAA)Liberian fishery observers Josiah O. Botoe and Dehcorti C. Karmo talk with a local fisherman during a field trip to a fishing village.

Sheck Sherif, XX, of the Liberia Bureau of National Fisheries, worked with NOAA scientists to conduct the fishery observer training in Liberia. (Teresa Turk/NOAA)Sheck Sherif of the West African Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP), worked with NOAA scientists to conduct the fishery observer training in Liberia.

Liberian fishery observers toured a shrimp vessel as part of the two-week observer training program. (Teresa Turk/NOAA)Liberian fishery observers toured a shrimp vessel as part of the two-week observer training program. 

NOAA scientist (INSERT NAME) conducts safety training classs for Liberian fishery observers. (Teresa Turk/NOAA)NOAA scientist Simon Gulak conducts safety training class for Liberian fishery observers.

Fish caught by local fishermen on display at a Liberian market. (Teresa Turk/NOAA)Fish caught by local fishermen on display at a Liberian market.

Billfish caught by local fishermen and sold at the market. (Teresa Turk/NOAA)Billfish caught by local fishermen and sold at the market.

September 6, 2011

Fresh from a training program for Liberian fishery observers run by NOAA and its West African partners, a graduate of the program found himself working aboard a trawler that he believed was  breaking Liberia’s laws by fishing in near shore waters reserved for local fishermen.

The observer alerted his Liberian government supervisor by cell phone, and the Liberian Coast Guard apprehended the vessel, the Seta 70, owned by a Korean multinational company with offices in Spain’s Canary Islands. The vessel has been impounded in Monrovia, Liberia, where the investigation is continuing.

“This was a dramatic event showing the important role that fishery observers can play in the conservation and effective management of valuable fisheries,” said Teresa Turk, a NOAA scientist who worked with Liberian government officials to conduct the three-week observer training program this summer. The observer is not being identified as part of long-standing protocol in the U.S. and internationally to protect observers and allow them to carry out their work.

As part of the observer training program, some 30 Liberians learned about Liberian and international fisheries management, how to identify and collect data on fish, sharks, marine mammals, sea turtles and marine debris, safety at sea, and sighting illegal fishing vessels. These observers will work aboard vessels to improve the scientific management of fisheries in their country.

Millions of West Africans depend on fish as a source of protein and fishing provides jobs for many local people. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a global problem that undermines the livelihoods of fishermen who abide by the rules and the food security of people who depend on healthy fish stocks and marine ecosystems. The Liberian Bureau of National Fisheries and the World Bank’s West African Regional Fisheries program (WARFP) collaborated with NOAA on the recent observer training. It was the third in a series that NOAA and its West African partners have conducted.

U.S. co-sponsorship of the training programs is part of the strong commitment made by Congress in the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to increase international cooperation to improve fishery management of highly migratory species and combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. Annual global losses due to IUU fishing are estimated to be as high as $23 billion. The problem is particularly acute for developing nations that often lack the resources to enforce strong fishing law.