Black Johnson Community
Sierra Leone’s Fisheries Minister, Emma Kowa-Jalloh, has stated that the government has set aside SL13.76 billion (USD 1.33 million, EUR 1 million) to compensate Black Johnson landowners to pave the way for constructing the fish harbor, which she said will “centralize all fishing activities.” Kowa-Jalloh said the Black Johnson site was the preferred location for the fish harbor project “in terms of bathymetry and environmental issues.”
She did not elaborate on these two considerations. To assuage the concerns of those opposed to the undertaking on environmental grounds, Kowa-Jalloh said the project has a waste-management component entailing “recycling of marine and other wastes into useful products.” The minister said that since 2018, the Sierra Leone government “has increased local fish landing to 40 percent from the previous 30 percent to ensure regular supply of fish, which is the main source of protein to the locals.” The development of a fishing industry project in Sierra Leone, financed by China, is being opposed by a group of non-governmental organizations who claim that it will harm the environment.
The Sierra Leone government said it has received USD 55 million (EUR 45 million) from China for the construction of the facility on a 250-acre land in the Black Johnson area, nearly 51 years after the project was first considered and then tabled by the state.
However, opposition to the project – led by the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ) and Namati Sierra Leone, as well as landowners including James Tonner, who has set up a crowdfunding page to fund a judicial review of the deal – claim the project “would cause an international ecological and national human disaster.”
“Industrial fishmeal production is hugely damaging to the environment, as the factories discharge toxic chemicals, destroy fish breeding grounds, and decimate fish stocks for local fishermen,” the groups said in a statement.
China has dismissed claims it clandestinely acquired the environmentally sensitive land in Sierra Leone amid increasing pressure on the West African country’s government to cancel the project.
A statement by Du Zijun, the Chinese economic and commercial counsellor at the country’s embassy in Sierra Leone, accused foreign media of publishing “false reports on the China-aid fish harbor project for Sierra Leone based on some unfounded social media news.”
Zijun said the project “is an assistance project that the government of Sierra Leone has requested the Chinese government to help construct, to promote the development of Sierra Leone’s own fishery sector.”
The Chinese envoy said the project’s objective is “to build a fish harbor, a Sierra Leonean project, rather than a Chinese one.”
Zijun also termed claims that China is buying 250 acres of land at the Black Johnson for the project “totally groundless.”
“The site selection and environmental impact assessment of the project is determined or conducted by the government of Sierra Leone in accordance with its laws and administrative procedures, and the Chinese side will decide on the establishment and implementation of the project after the Sierra Leonean side completes its relevant work,” Zijun said.
Zijun termed the accusations of ignoring environmental concerns “completely sensational and hypothetical.”
Zijun said claims of Chinese ownership are “an insult to the government and people of Sierra Leone to claim that the Sierra Leonean government is incapable of doing relevant work or does not consider the interests of the Sierra Leonean people.”
Zijun said intensifying pressure to have the project cancelled is “malicious in nature,” saying those opposed to the undertaking merely want to “hinder the implementation of the project and thus hinder the economic and social development of Sierra Leone.”
“Some people indulge in criticizing and accusing China- Sierra Leone and China-Africa cooperation of one reason or another, but they are unwilling to contribute in a substantiated way to the economic and social development of Sierra Leone and other African countries,” Zijun said.
Those opposed to the project claim the fishmeal manufacturing facility will cause harm to local rainforests and pollute regional ecosystems that support endangered birds and the marine environment.
“We are also calling for a judicial review and independent inquiry into this deal with the Chinese, [as] turning fish into fish meal for export to feed pigs is not in the public interest,” the NGO statement said.