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Protecting West African Fisheries

March 28, 2013

In order to prevent illegal fishing within six nautical miles of the West African coast, the International Development Agency (IDA) supported the West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (WARFP) in Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. The capacity of the Joint Maritime Commission (JMC) was bolstered to coordinate monitoring and responses to illegal fishing, leading to $2 million in illegal fishing fines off the coast of Sierra Leone in 2012 alone. Additionally, all small-scale fishing vessels in Senegal and Liberia have been registered.


The fishing sector is of crucial importance to the coastal countries of West Africa, with an estimated $2.5 billion in fish legally captured each year in West African waters and 3 million individuals employed by the industry. As recently as 2009, laws prohibiting large fishing trawlers from fishing within six nautical miles of Sierra Leone and Liberia’s coasts were not enforced, and the trawling damaged nets and boats of local villagers, destroyed the seabed breeding grounds of many fish, and depleted regional fish stocks. Further, as these trawlers were mostly foreign, the citizens of Sierra Leone saw only an estimated 2 percent of the wealth generated from their fisheries. Liberia and Cape Verde saw a similar extradition of fish from their coasts. Regional governments often lack the tools, policies, and regulations to manage marine fish resources and coastal communities typically lack basic port and processing infrastructure for industrial vessels to land and have their fish processed locally. A lack of governance, pervasive illegal fishing, and a lack of local value added all contribute to retard regional development.


The West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (WARFP) sets out to strengthen the capacity of empower Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone to manage their fisheries sustainably, to reduce illegal fishing, and to increase the local value added to fish products. A set of overlapping adaptable program loans (APLs) empower the countries to collaborate on the management of fish resources through the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission and sustainably increase regional marine fish resource returns. To this end, the Joint Maritime Commission was scaled up to monitor and coordinate responses to illegal fishing along the West African coast. In Cape Verde, the communities of Palmiera, Santa Maria, and Pedro de Lume have developed their own fishermen’s association that works to protect fishing zones for locals. Communities, local government, and maritime police have also collaborated to register fishing boats systematically to help crack down on illegal fishing. Finally, the community of Palmeira is planning to build an ice factory that will allow fishermen to fish longer and reach more distant markets. 


As of September, 2011, the project had achieved the following results:

  • In 2012, the JMC arrested seven boats and leveled fines of $2 million for illegal fishing off the coast of Sierra Leone
  • A hotline to the JMC allows locals to report illegal vessels
  • In Liberia, 45 percent of fishing vessels observed by patrol or radar and satellite monitoring were committing a serious infraction in targeted fisheries in 2011, down from 83 percent in 2009
  • In Senegal, 100 percent of small-scale fishing vessels in targeted fisheries are registered, up from 25 percent in 2009
  • In Liberia, 100 percent of small-scale fishing vessels in targeted fisheries are registered, up from 0 percent in 2009
  • A satellite-based fishing vessel monitoring system in Liberia was installed and is functioning

Bank Group Contribution

The International Development Association has contributed $45 million to the project.


The Ministry of Fisheries in Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone acted as the implementing agency in their respective countries. The Joint Maritime Commission was also a crucial partner, as it was strengthened to monitor and coordinate regional responses to illegal fishing, including providing a hotline to report illegal fishing.

Moving Forward

A new minister and administration in Sierra Leone has brought an emphasis within the project to engage with this new leadership. Additionally, restructuring has been completed for Senegal, and the project will continue to get back on track in the country. Finally, the project will continue to clear out illegal fishing as the governments build up policies, laws, and institutions for the development of a more sustainable sector to manage and protect the fisheries.


“It used to be, we, with these boats, we fish mostly at night. So we go out when the trawlers come in, and there were many accidents,” says Arthur Koroma, a lifetime resident of Goderich, Sierra Leone who, like most, earns his living fishing these waters. The long wooden canoes of the villagers were often unable to get out of the way of the larger, faster trawlers and losing a net or even a boat in a collision was very common.