Fishing, fins and food

  • Sharks
  • Turtles
Years funded
  • 2013
  • Archived
Project type
  • Research

Fishing grounds in Sierre Leone are being plundered by illegal trawlers, forcing local communities to find alternative food, including turtles, and earn an income from shark fins. Steve’s team is working with fishermen to change these trends.

Fishing, fins and food

Steve Trent

Project leader
About the project leader
My full-time professional engagement in conservation began more than 25 years ago, when I worked for a pioneering organisation that actively investigated and exposed wildlife and other environmental crimes. This organisation, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), is still a leader in its field, with its ground-breaking investigative methods, hard-hitting approach and astounding value for money. Having witnessed the threats to our natural world and seen that much more was needed to protect it, I was inspired to co-found two organisations. One, WildAid, was designed specifically to kill off the demand for endangered species, thereby getting to the root cause of the...
PROJECT LOCATION : Liberia, Sierra Leone
Project details

Saving sharks and turtles in Liberia and Sierra Leone

Key objective

To conserve sharks and turtles in Sierra Leone and Liberia by raising awareness and building capacity among local coastal communities.

Why is this important

Marine turtles and several shark species are thought to be numerous along much of the west coast of Africa, yet they face growing threats from targeted fishing fuelled by the trade in fins and meat, and from incidental capture by both industrial trawlers and artisanal fisheries. Environmental Justice Foundation researchers and local staff regularly observe shark and turtle carcasses being landed by fishing vessels and shark fins drying on land or on sale. There has been little or no scientific assessment of the species targeted, population baselines or the threats. This is basic information that underpins sound conservation.


“The Environmental Justice Foundation has been involved in marine and coastal conservation since 2001, with a particular focus on Africa. The foundation has been active in Sierra Leone since 2008, where it employs four local staff and operates a research and monitoring vessel. Since January 2012, three local staff members have been employed in Liberia; they include individuals with expertise in marine conservation and science, and with strong links to fishing communities.

The Environmental Justice Foundation has undertaken socio-economic studies and facilitated a series of meetings as part of its work to develop community co-management and marine protected areas. In addition to the Environmental Justice Foundation’s community surveillance project in Sierra Leone, which has led to the flight of illegal fishing vessels from the project area, there has been a growing awareness of the need to engage artisanal fishing communities in protecting threatened marine species and with it build capacity of grassroots NGOs and develop effective conservation projects.

Based on our on-going work on fisheries surveillance and community science projects in Liberia, Environmental Justice Foundation staff are beginning to assess fish catches, and with it, shark and turtle mortality. Questionnaires and meetings with fishermen can be used to identify the causal factors – by-catch or targeted fisheries – for each species and how they are caught. Local networks and in particular Environmental Justice Foundation’s local staff, who are highly skilled and familiar with the issues confronting fishermen, will help facilitate the effective implementation of the project, which must include education about the threats to these species and the measures that fishermen can take to support such efforts.”

Aims & objectives

The aim of this project is to establish a network of fishing communities involved in shark and turtle conservation in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The objectives include:

  • Identifying factors in shark and turtle mortality, and establishing the conservation needs of the key species involved.
  • Establishing a robust network of fishing communities engaged in conservation efforts.
  • Building the capacity of grassroots organisations to deliver conservation messages, thus involving local fishing communities in education and raising awareness.

The project aims to support liaison with fishing communities as real or potential stewards of the marine environment, thus harnessing their skills and involvement in fisheries to develop effective strategies for conservation. Too often conservation programmes are top-down and unworkable in real-world situations as they ignore the needs, expectations and resources offered by fishing communities themselves. This project adopts a different approach. Without the engagement of fishing communities, the threats to sharks and turtles will intensify; with their engagement, fishing communities will develop a deeper appreciation of the marine environment upon which their food security and livelihoods rest.