War, fish, and foreign fleets: the marine fisheries catches of Sierra Leone 1950–2015.

In countries like Sierra Leone, where stock assessments based on fisheries-independent data and complex population models are financially and technically challenging, catch statistics may be used to infer fluctuations in fish stocks where more precise data are not available. However, FAO FishStat, the most widely-used time-series data on global fisheries ‘catches’ (actually ‘landings’), does not account for Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) catches and relies on statistics provided by the national agencies of each member country. As such, reported FishStat data is vulnerable to changes in monitoring capacity, governmental transitions, and budgetary constraints, and may substantially underestimate the measure of extracted marine resources. In this report, Sierra Leone’s total catches by all marine fishing sectors were estimated for the period 1950–2015, using a catch reconstruction approach incorporating national data, expert knowledge, and both peer-reviewed and grey literature. Results demonstrate that a substantial amount of marine resource exploitation is not represented in official statistics, and reconstructed catches represent more than 2.25 times the recorded FAO Fishstat values. Notably, foreign fleets take the vast majority of industrial catch in Sierra Leone’s EEZ, indicating that most of the resource catch and revenue is diverted to foreign companies and export markets. While foreign actors dominate the industrial sector, the small-scale sector represents the majority of domestic catch. Illegal fishing is also a substantial challenge in Sierra Leone, and extracts a large amount of the country’s marine fish resources. Reconstructing catches in Sierra Leone also highlights the impacts of various historical events such as Sierra Leone’s civil war and post-war reconstruction on the development of the fisheries sector. The results found in the reconstruction present a large discrepancy from FishStat data, with considerable implications for assessment of stocks and management of Sierra Leone’s marine resources.