The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of Sierra Leone has noted with concern that some local and foreign media recently published a report titled “Illegal overfishing by Chinese trawlers leaves Sierra Leone locals ‘starving’”. I wish to make the following points:
First, the remarks in the report on low license fees and the inability of the Chinese fishing enterprises to promote the economic development of Sierra Leone are totally groundless. Fishery is one of the traditional areas of China-Sierra Leone cooperation starting from the 1980s. In 2017, the governments of China and Sierra Leone signed a memorandum of understanding on fishery cooperation, laying a solid foundation for the healthy and sustainable development of this cooperation. As far as I know, there are more than 100 industrial fishing vessels and over 12,000 small fishing boats operating in the exclusive economic zone of Sierra Leone. At present, with the approval of the Chinese authorities, 5 Chinese fishing enterprises are operating in Sierra Leone with about 40 fishing vessels. These Chinese fishing enterprises and vessels have created thousands of direct jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs for Sierra Leonean people. In recent years, the Chinese fishing enterprises paid nearly 10 million US dollars of various fees including license fees to the Sierra Leonean government annually and also helped Sierra Leone earn a lot of foreign exchange through the export of fish catches. During the Ebola epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese fishing enterprises managed to continue their production, playing an essential role in maintaining the local jobs, ensuring the supply of fish in the local market, stabilizing prices, and enhancing people’s livelihood. The Chinese fishing enterprises have worked actively to fulfill their social responsibilities, established good relations with the local communities, and donated money or materials to victims who suffered from natural disasters, all of which were highly appreciated by the government and people of Sierra Leone. To sum up, the Chinese fishing enterprises have made significant contributions to the promotion of economic development of Sierra Leone and the improvement of living standards of its people.
Second, the accusations in the report that China has seized the interests of Sierra Leone’s fishery resources and led to their reduction are entirely untrue. According to the regulations of industrial fishing licenses in Sierra Leone, fishing enterprises operating in Sierra Leone should keep at least 30% of their catch for the local market. Actually, in normal years, more than 65% of the catch by the Chinese fishing enterprises remained in the local market, which has greatly met the living needs and enhanced food security of the local people. In recent years, to promote the sustainable development of the fishery industry of Sierra Leone, China has been gradually reducing the number of fishing enterprises and fishing vessels in Sierra Leone, and actively reduced the production capacity. Besides, China, at the request of the government of Sierra Leone, has dispatched a scientific research vessel to carry out a survey on fishery resources in Sierra Leone to help promote sustainable development of the fishery sector in the country. The Chinese fishing enterprises and their Sierra Leonean counterparts and employees share common interests. They fully understand that the sustainable development of Sierra Leone’s fishery industry benefits both sides.
Third, the blame in the report on the Chinese vessels’ under-declaration of catch and destruction of local fishermen’s boats and nets is merely speculation or one-sided allegation. The Chinese government always requires the Chinese fishing enterprises to operate in compliance with laws and regulations of Sierra Leone, monitors the Chinese vessels through surveillance systems, and asks the vessels to report their locations every hour. The Chinese fishing enterprises abide by the laws and operate strictly in the waters stipulated by the Sierra Leonean government bearing all certificates and documents required. Besides, each fishing vessel is equipped with a Vessel Management System (VMS) and an observer is dispatched by the Sierra Leone government to supervise the operation of the fishing vessels including loading and unloading of the catch. Generally speaking, Chinese fishing vessels and local fishing boats get along with each other well. Even in case of rare frictions between the two sides, the Chinese fishing enterprises always deal with it in a proper way according to the laws and regulations of Sierra Leone and in cooperation with observers and local agents. Chinese fishing vessels also take such measures as strengthening observation and voluntarily moving away from busy fishing grounds to avoid frictions. The Chinese fishing enterprises have been following the fishery policies and regulations of Sierra Leone, and have been working under the supervision of the fishery authorities of Sierra Leone.
Fourth, the accusation that the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone did not respond is not a fact. After receiving the e-mail from the author, a Mr. Yeung, of the above-mentioned report, the Chinese Embassy wrote a letter of reply via email and expressed willingness to communicate with him on relevant subjects, but thereafter, the embassy has not received any further response. The Chinese side has always been following and will continue to follow the principle of sincerity, actual results, amity and good faith and the principle of pursuing the greater good and shared interests to carry out friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation with Sierra Leone. China is committed to helping Sierra Leone in her social and economic development. I hope that relevant parties can treat the fishery cooperation between China and Sierra Leone objectively rather than with prejudice against the Chinese fishing enterprises or with tinted glasses. I believe the Sierra Leonean government and people will, out of fairness and justice, continue to promote and uphold our cooperation in various areas, including the fishery sector. If the relevant report is aimed at undermining China-Sierra Leone cooperation or tarnishing China’s image, it will be very disappointing, unnecessary and to no avail.