The government of Sierra Leone have just sold 250 acres of beach and protected rainforest to China to build an industrial fishing harbour.

The deal is being called “a catastrophic human and ecological disaster” by conservationists. Greenpeace Africa condemned the plan, arguing that “fishing communities in West Africa are already experiencing the effects of environmental degradation and the climate crisis.”

The waters around Black Johnson Beach are well populated with fish and support the livelihoods of local fishermen. The Western Area Peninsula national park bordering the beach is home to many endangered species, including the pangolin.

Centralised fishing

The government says the proposal is to create a harbour to centralise fishing activities. It will provide a place where huge tuna fishing vessels and international trawlers can anchor.

A press release from Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Emma Kowa-Jalloh has been criticized by campaigners. They say it is vague and does not reveal the actual agreement between the two countries. The groups are petitioning the government to release the agreement documents between Sierra Leone and China.

Telling the truth?

Kowa-Jalloh defended the deal, saying: “The government of Sierra Leone has been yearning for a Fish Harbour since the early 1970s, but could not actualise it due to the huge amount of money that is required.” She argues it will bring much needed development investment to Sierra Leone.

But according to the Black Johnson Land Owners Group, in 2017 a World Bank analysis specifically ruled out Black Johnson as unsuitable for a harbour.

Fish meal plant

This has fuelled local beliefs that the plan is not for a harbour at all. Instead, they think the plan is to create a fish meal production facility. Here, vast quantities of fish are bred in aquaculture and ground down to make fish meal pellets.

This type of production is hugely damaging to the environment. As well as keeping fish in overcrowded and dirty conditions, it discharges toxic chemicals into the ocean. This destroys existing fish breeding grounds and decimates fish stocks for local fishermen.

Destructive aquaculture

Around a quarter of global fish-catch is used as fish meal to support the growing billion-dollar aquaculture industry. Free-living fish are caught to feed captive fish, so humans can then eat them.

The construction is set to be built on a part of Black Johnson’s beach named ‘Whale Bay’, so called for its abundance of whales and dolphins. Polluting Whale Bay would decimate the habitats of thousands of both land and marine species.

Hurting Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is among the world’s poorest countries. It ranks 180th out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index. Eleven years of armed conflict had dramatic consequences on the economy and poverty remains widespread. More than 60{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of the population live on less than US$1.25 a day.

But local campaigners argue China’s investment in Sierra Leone will not improve the situation. Similar projects in other African countries have been criticized for destroying local economies and communities – and will end up increasing Sierra Leone’s debt.

Human cost

On top of the environmental impact, there is a huge human cost. Both local food systems and Sierra Leone’s national food security will be jeopardised, as 80{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of the country’s protein currently comes from fish.

Residents will be forced from their homes under compulsory purchase orders made by the government ‘in the national interest’. Local fishermen and traders who own land along the beach will be pushed out of jobs. The ecotourism industry will be devastated.

Stealing land

Campaigners have also pointed out that the 13.76bn leone (US$1.3m) compensation put aside to pay landowners and local fishermen is around 30 times smaller than the actual market value of the land.

This is not a local issue. The exploitation of fish stocks in West Africa is an international problem and impacts the planet. It destroys breeding grounds, kills fish and marine mammals, and impoverishes local communities.

Original source: https://www.seaspiracy.org