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Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project

Fishing for change: a bioeconomic analysis comparing policy scenarios to manage distant water fishing in Liberia

Fishing boat on the water with a sunset behind it and birds flying around the boat.

Group Members: Mara Booth, Taylor Cook, Dustin Duncan, Abigail Kirk, Madeleine (Maddie) Whitman

Faculty Advisors: Anastasia Quintana

Client: Conservation International, Center for Oceans (Liberia)




As the global demand for seafood grows, high-capacity industrial fishing fleets are increasingly operating further away from their own and largely overexploited Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), often in the High Seas or the EEZs of developing nations (Berkes et al. 2006). This practice, known as distant water fishing (DWF), has intensified pressure on ocean ecosystems and the people who rely on them. It is often associated with overfishing, conflict, and illegal practices, including human and labor rights abuses (ibid; Environmental Justice Foundation 2024).

The Republic of Liberia, a coastal country in West Africa, has opened its EEZ to DWFs from the European Union (EU) and China, along with private fleets, in exchange for a fee regulated through access agreements. These access agreements generate steady income for Liberia’s government and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFaa) (Conservational International 2023). However, DWF fleets also negatively affect Liberia’s domestic fishing fleets, local communities, and marine ecosystems by overharvesting, competing for fish stocks, and damaging ecosystems through trawling via access agreements (Mechanix 2019 & Oberle 2016). Over the past two years, Conservational International (CI) has been documenting the harmful effects of the DWF fleet and working with policymakers to identify solutions to these problems.

With collaboration from CI, this project seeks to better understand the extent of DWF impacts in Liberia by exploring how modifying DWF access to Liberian waters affects ecological and economic outcomes. Specifically, we will combine economic, environmental, and social metrics in a framework to explore how reducing inshore trawling by DWF vessels affects fish stock biomass and fishery-related income for Liberia. Using our bioeconomic framework, we will estimate changes under several policy scenarios and ultimately conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each. Based on our analysis's quantitative and qualitative outcomes, we will identify key trade-offs that will assist Conservational International and its Liberian partners in their decision-making process.

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