LIBERIA wrestles with poverty and ecology in bid to protect sharks........

GEONGE Toe reflects on the good old days, when catching a couple of sharks helped fill a fisherman's pocket and fed a hungry family.

Fifteen years or so ago, local fishermen who ventured off the coast of Liberia could expect to come back with 200 or maybe 300 of the fish in their boats, the 45-year old recalls.

''Now it is difficult to get even 10,'' he said. ''Now you have to go 45 miles [72 kilometres] in the water before you meet up with any.''

Toe's worry encapsulates the dilemma facing Liberia, one of the world's poorest countries, as it seeks to protect these beautiful, endangered but often under-estimated species.

Each year, tens of million of sharks and rays are hauled from the sea, typically to meet a voracious demand in East and Southeast Asia for shark fin soup or as  products used in traditional medicine.

Experts say the plunder is having a devastating effect on the health of the sea - but protecting the species often meets resistance from fishermen, who see the catch as a vital source of income.

Fishing provides a livelihood to more than 30,000 people in Liberia and accounts for two-thirds  of all animal proteins consumed nationally.

On The UN's Human Development Index, the country ranks a lowly 181  out of 189 nations. The average salary is $100 a month, and many Liberians survive on just $1 a day.

What's at stake is  shark and ray conservation is not just the survival of these ancient species but supporting commercial fish stocks.

''Loss of sharks can lead dramatic imbalances in the  ecosystem,'' says campaign group Environmental Justice Foundation [EJF] .

Catching sharks ricochets down the food chain as big fish decimate small fish in the absence of the apex predator.

Monitoring Programme :  Under a three year initiative, the  National Fisheries and    Aquaculture Authority will collect data on  shark and ray populations, monitoring their numbers and location, and track fishing both legal and illegal.

The action follows a pledge on training and data collection that Liberia made with  12-other   West African countries in 2014 to help shark and ray conservation. [Agencies]


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