The stalls are almost empty at the once-buzzing fish market on Rogbaneh Road in Makeni, a city near the centre of Sierra Leone. Fishmongers stand idle, waiting and reminiscing. It’s clear that their customers have gone elsewhere.
Kadie Koroma is the fishmongers’ chairperson. The 48-year-old woman says she feels hopeless because illegal foreign fishing is killing the local fish trade.
Ms. Koroma explains: “I have been in this business for over 30 years. But my business is collapsing. Foreigners and foreign vessels have taken over. They sell both retail and wholesale. They own the fishing boats and also sell. This is killing us.”
She adds, “I pay US$1,000 a year rent for this place. But soon I will no longer be able to raise that amount because my business has taken a nosedive.”
Local fishers are also losing hope. In Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, some have abandoned their boats to rot at the wharf.
In April, Greenpeace and Sierra Leone’s fishing authorities caught four illegal fishing boats during a joint surveillance mission. They seized two Chinese vessels and one Korean vessel for breaking the country’s fishing laws, including possessing or using illegal fishing nets and lacking the required paperwork. The fourth vessel, owned by an Italian company, had four kilograms of shark fins on board. That is a violation of European Union fishing rules. More than 70 bags of shark carcasses were also found on one Chinese vessel.
Bakary Coulibaly is a communications officer with Greenpeace in West Africa. He says the existing penalties are not enough to stop illegal fishing. He explains, “They [foreign boats] always have money to pay when they are caught.”
Morlai Turay is a fisher at Rokuper Wharf, east of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city. He says foreign boats are destroying fish habitat and putting local fishers out of business.
Mr. Turay adds, “They use illegal nets and destroy the little fishes, which affects the fish population.”
Musa Sesay works for Community Action to Restore Life, a local organization working to protect fishers’ rights. He says there should be laws to protect locals in the fishing business. He adds: “The market cannot be allowed to operate this way, because the foreign vessels are using lots of money to make their way into the business. This is a disservice to the fishmongers.”
Greenpeace notes that Chinese businesses are the biggest players, with more than 300 fishing vessels in the region. Most of them are trawlers—including bottom trawlers, one of the most destructive industrial fishing methods. Europe is the second biggest foreign player in West African waters, with more than 100 fishing vessels.
Many of these boats catch fish to feed poultry, pigs, and farmed salmon. This is threatening marine biodiversity and food security for people in West Africa.
Salieu Sankoh is the National Project Coordinator of West Africa’s Regional Fishing Program in Sierra Leone. He says: “Foreign boats are stealing the country’s fish. Any vessel that wants to fish in our waters must do so through the right channel and comply with the laws of Sierra Leone. This is what we are working on, but there are challenges.”
At the empty fish market, Ms. Koroma says that she has lost hope: “We have complained over and over without actions—so we have given up.”
This story was adapted from an article titled “How illegal fishing is putting locals out of business in Sierra Leone,” published by Politico SL. To read the original article, please see: http://www.politicosl.com/articles/how-illegal-fishing-putting-locals-out-business-sierra-leone 
Photo: Ramatu, an unhappy fish seller in Makeni, Sierra Leone. Credit: Politico SL