ICELAND, which has only two diplomatic missions in Africa, is planning to open an embassy in Freetown, according to a statement released by the Sierra Leone High Commission in London following a visit to the mission by the Icelandic ambassador to the UK, Sturla Sigurjonnson.
Currently, Uganda and Malawi are among the 21 countries around the world that host 26 Icelandic foreign missions.
Sigurjonnson, who called on Sierra Leone High Commissioner Dr Morie Komba Manyeh this week, handed over a letter concerning Reykjavik’s proposed diplomatic presence in the Sierra Leonean capital for delivery to the Foreign Ministry in Freetown.
The Information Attaché at the Sierra Leone High Commission in London, Abdulai Braima, said: ‘In recent times the government of Iceland has expressed a strong desire, and demonstrated concrete determination, to increase bilateral corporation between the thriving Nordic country and the progressive New Direction government of Sierra Leone, under the leadership of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio.
‘In February this year, in pursuance of enhancing meaningful diplomatic ties, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Iceland sent a strong delegation to Freetown where its members engaged with officers of various ministries and organisations including, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development.
‘During their stay in Freetown, the Icelandic delegation also established a tangible framework for potential cooperation with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources,’ Braima added.
Iceland is the 12th largest fishing nation the world, exporting all of its catch.
Its modern and competitive seafood industries are based on sustainable harvest and protection of the marine ecosystem.
Catching and processing fish is the mainstay of Iceland’s economy, accounting for 15 per cent of GDP and 75 per cent of exports.
It is not surprising that the government of Sierra Leone is keen to work with Iceland as a partner that could help harness the country’s vast fishing resources, with a wide variety of valuable stocks, through responsible fisheries management.
The country is losing over $50 million in revenue from illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing every year, a hole that Bio promised to plug when he became president in 2018.
A 2017 report by Frontiers in Marine Science on IUU in West Africa showed that between 2010 and 2016 Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone lost an estimated $2.3 billion annually in fisheries revenues.
This accounted for 65 per cent of the legal reported catch, the study found.
During this period, only $13 million was recovered through the monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) scheme.
The report also found that the Ebola crisis in Guinea and Sierra Leone was responsible for ‘a tremendous increase in the loss generated by illegal fishing’ by these two countries.
But the report noted: ‘This study finds that Sierra Leone and The Gambia have the highest scoring MCS systems, and were the countries where the most offenders are caught and charged with the highest fines…’
An environmental activist told Africa Briefing: ‘For a country in which the fishing industry provides employment for 500,000 people and contributes 12 per cent to the economy, it would make sense for the government in Freetown to turn to a country like Iceland, which has a strong fisheries management system, to deepen the blue economy in Sierra Leone.’
Touching on the government’s attempt to tackle IUU, the activist said: ‘Even in the case where the Chinese currently hold 40 per cent of licences for industrial fishing, there is not much benefit to Sierra Leone’s economy because the Chinese pay meagre fees for their licences and under-report their catch.’
The Frontiers in Marin Science report said about Chinese influence in the global fishing industry: ‘In addition to dominating licensed markets, China is consistently ranked as the worst offender for IUU fishing in a global index of 152 countries.
‘Across West Africa, illegal trawling is devastating marine ecosystems and undermining local fisheries, which are a critical source of jobs and food security.’
Commenting on this, the activist told Africa Briefing. ‘Although this report came out in 2017, nothing has changed.
‘But things could get better if the government in Sierra Leone engages the Icelandic government in a big way on the fisheries front.’