Key figures: 

EEZ: 166 058 km2

Smal pelagics: 132 400 t

 Scale fleet: 7000

Motorisation : 3 %

Employment: 125 000

Consumption : 12,3 kg/hab/an

Export : 18,10 M usd

Fishing background in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a West African country bordered by Guinea to the north-west, Liberia to the south and the northern Atlantic Ocean to the south-west. Lying between latitude 8° 30' north and longitude 11° 30' west, it has a hot humid tropical climate and a rainy season. With a population of 5.7 million and an annual growth rate of 2.3%, the country lies on a surface area of 71, 740 km², for a population density of 82 per km².

It has a combined coastline stretching out over 510 km, and a continental shelf 100 km wide to the north, which shrinks down to 13 km southwards on the Liberian border and extends on a surface area of 30 000 km2. Its coast is characterised by a luxuriant flora of mangroves, mostly Rhizophora sp. and countless streams and estuaries navigable over a short distance. The 200-nautical-miles EEZ covers an area of 157 000 km2. The political climate has been generally unstable in Sierra Leone until 2002 and this nagatively affected  the fisheries sector, as evidenced by an ever-changing stewardship authority and lack (until 2003) of effective fisheries policy instruments ( MFMR 2003). For over ten years (1991-2002), the country was torn apart by a civil war that paralysed its economy, crippled its public sector, destroyed its infrastructure and rendered its public authorities heavily challenged  to implement management measures to the fullest.   Since the end of the armed conflict, the humanitarian situation has gradually improved and in recent times the  economy has started recovering, with  annual growth rates ranging from ranging from 13% in 2013 to 19% in 2015.

The fisheries sector has a huge  potential to contribute to poverty reduction and the overall development of the economy. However, the stock biomass of the country’s fisheries has not been fully estimated  in recent years – calling for a comprehensive independent stock assessment  to ensure effective management measures and foster resource sustainability. The sector however, lacks the capacity of enforcing well drafted management rules, especially in the areas of Illegal, Unreported and Unregullated fishing. Also the  institutions for input supply, marketing and establishing ownership over the resources remain weak. 


Institutional framework

Working in close collaboration with other fishery resource management institutions, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is tasked with managing fisheries throughout the country's territorial waters, in keeping with the legal and regulatory framework provided by the Law of Fishery Development and Management Act (1994) and the Fishing Regulations (1995). The National Fishery Policy (2010) is equally a major management instrument. There is a reviewed Fisheries Policy and Fisheries Strategy which were validated in 2015 that are yet to be approved by cabinet for approval and implementation. At the same time the Fisheries Bill in undergoing serious reviews taking into consideration international best practice for sustainable fisheries management. 

There is a Joint Maritime Committee comprising of major stakeholders in the maritime domain and are charged with the responsibilities of Monitoring Control and Surveillance and to forestall intending illegal maritime activities including piracy, counter narcotics, people smuggling etc. The coming together of these stakeholders is a means to reduce cost and improve transparency.

Overview of resources

Sierra Leone is home to huge stocks of fishery resources, which may be a major asset to help reduce poverty and boost economic well-being. However, overexploitation of some species, particularly juveniles, illegal fishing and inefficiency in implementing fishing laws and regulations all constitute threats to this potential.

Artisanal sector catches account for 80%  of overall fishery production. Over 200 fish species identified in the Exclusive Economic Zone, and latest stock estimates on Sierra Leone’s continental shelf indicate the following standing biomasses per species (in thousands of tonnes): demersals (40,625 ISFM May 2011), pelagics (56,900 ISFM, May 2011), shrimp (3), and cephalopods (1). These estimates did not include coastal fish stocks due to the limitations of the research vessel used at the time.

The bonga shad, short-bodied sardine and Brachydeuterus auritus juveniles catch rates indicate that should current trends be maintained, fishery sustainability, incomes and biodiversity shall be severely jeopardised.

Like in most countries in the sub-region, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a menace. For instance, the annual value of illegal fishery catches in Sierra Leone is estimated at US$30 million.

One of the major challenges facing Sierra Leone’s fishing is inadequate  capacity and capability  to  effectively surveillance  its fisheries waters and implement fishing laws to the fullest. 


Artisanal fishing

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has delegated the issuance of artisanal fishing licences to the Local Councils since the 2004 Local Government Act. The Local Councils work closely with the two officially-recognised fishermen’s associations in awarding licences, and act together to foster responsible fishing under the supervision of the Ministry of Fisheries.

Latest statistics on artisanal fishing indicate a growth in catches from 120 000 (in 2008) to 250 000 tonnes (in 2009). The most prominent small pelagic species landed (2008) are: primarily golden sardines and others (Carangidae, Scombridae, barracuda, the large-eyed hair tail), and horse mackerels; and to a lesser extent, anchovies and small jacks.

There is a high mortality rate amongst clupeids (herrings,  shad, sardines, etc…), ascribable to the growing number of driftnets with an unauthorised mesh size. This is compounded by a worrisome presence of sardinellas spp. and bonga shad juveniles. 

Industrial fishing

As concerns industrial fishing, any vessel seeking to operate in Sierra Leone must obtain a fishing licence from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

Although there is no regulatory requirement limiting catches, the fleet of industrial vessels has contracted globally. Fishing licences to industrial vessels and midwater trawlers for semi-pelagic species are issued by the Ministry of Fisheries. Twin-trawling is forbidden for midwater demersal and pelagic species.

Mackerel landings rose to 119.74 tonnes (in 2007) and Decapterus spp. to 951.40 tonnes (in 2007). It should be noted that Sardinella maderensis are overexploited.

Overfishing and illegal fishing have been identified as crucial environmental problems in Sierra Leone .


Aquaculture in Sierra Leone is concentrated in Bo and  Tonkolili District with Oreochromis niloticus (Nile Tilapia) as the main cultured species.  Generally, aquaculture farming system is basically extensive and semi-extensive with total production of around 60 metric tons/year. Nowadays the farmers do just collect fingerlings from the natural habitat and nurse them in established ponds before selling to other farmers.

There used to be functional hatchery in the Bo and Makali fish farming stations in the South and North  but was destoyed during the  the ten years rebel war but now with the support of USAID there is now a fuctional Hatchery with Fingerling production. The government through the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has now developed plans to rehabilitate these facilities and make it operational once again to march up with the present trend in aquaculture technology. Therefore, with the continued support by the government and her development partners, there are plans to develop the  aquaculture sector. Early analysis suggests that aquaculture production, particularly focussed on African catfish and Nile tilapia culture in ponds and tanks, could contribute significantly to fish production in Sierra Leone within 10 years with appropriately targeted investment based on low input commercial practices.

Access to resources

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is tasked with issuing industrial fishing licences, including those for small midwater pelagic trawling as well as semi-industrial fishing vessels as a permit to have access to the fisheries resources of Sierra Leone.