The tropical morning sun was steaming last night’s modest rainfall to vapor as I stepped out to the street, hoping to hail a taxi for the 18 kilometer drive to meet Austin in the city of Paynesville.
Traffic was light this Saturday morning, and my trip to ELWA junction took only 30 minutes. Austin Saye Wehye was waiting at NP gas station near the busy crossroads of ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa) junction as my taxi arrived at 9:30. A quick stop for water and ice, and we were soon heading south to a fishing village on a coastal lagoon near Marshall City, halfway between central Monrovia and Buchanan.
Boats under Liberian and Ghanaian flags were returning from sea through the lagoon mouth. The wooden boats vary in size from approximately nine to twelve meters, with crews of two to five people to manage the nets while at sea. Many boats leave for a night of fishing, heading out to sea after dark, fishing within three to seven nautical miles of the beach in water depths of not more than 40 meters. They return mid-morning, hopeful of success, and spend the day resting and repairing nets to prepare for the following night.
Austin is a Master’s student at the University of Ghana, and is completing a degree in Fisheries Science. He is the former Program Manager for the Liberia Scientific Observer Program of the Bureau of National Fisheries. His Master’s thesis studies croakers, a type of sea bass commonly fished along the Liberian Coast. Two species are of special interest to Austin, Pseudotolithus senegalensis, the Cassava croaker, and Pseudotolithus typus, the Longneck croaker. Catches appeared to be light today, several boats came up empty for croakers.
We continued out of the village, crossing a sandbar to a fisheries outpost near the lagoon mouth. Boats arrived here to report their catch before proceeding to the village. Austin knew the joint inspection team of Fisheries Inspectors and Immigration officers patrolling today and was able to arrange first choice of specimens as they arrived en route to the village. Several boats had success, perhaps a dozen or so fish, and some lively bargaining animated the sultry midday heat, finally settling on a price that would be significantly lower than fish prices in Monrovia.
The chosen fish were packed into a woven basket and delivered by boat to the village, where we returned to receive them, repacking the fish to an icebox for the trip back to Paynesville.
Austin’s research gathers information on the size, weight, sex and maturity of the specimens. His daughter Cesam diligently records the numbers and notes into a logbook. Approximately eight months of data is being collected for publication.
In the spirit of conservation, the fish are cleaned and prepared for dinners to be shared throughout the community.
Austin hopes the information he gathers will lead to publication of data that will improve the quality and sustainability of fishing in Liberia.