Cecilie Baann

Fish, bodies and vocational knowledge: Making a life by the sea

Sierra Leone and Liberia sit on the south-western end of West Africa, both with long coastlines and a rich marine life. Marine resources have always been managed and harvested by communities who live on the coast, but also those beyond the coast through trade and seasonal migration. Natural resources, especially from the ocean, provide vital sources of income and food for a majority of people in these two countries. However, both the decade-long civil wars in both countries, and the more recent Ebola crisis, has taken its toll on institutional capacity at local, national and regional level in the region. Recent publications and efforts on governing and managing maritime resources tend to have a regional or international focus, with the state as the locus for governance. NGOs who work to expose illegal trawling and local effects of international fish trade, tend to call on the governments to implement, change, or enforce laws regulating the industry. Much less focus is put on other forms of regulatory authorities in the country, like the paramount and local chiefs, community groups and trade unions.

Maritime security was up until the growth of piracy around the Horn of Africa under-studied and policed in comparison with land-based insecurities and conflicts on the African continent. Moving from the East African context, with the growth in numbers and violence of the armed robberies off the coast of Nigeria, the whole Gulf of Guinea is now considered one of the major risk zones in international waters. That maritime security is as vital as security on land, should be no question, however, how is governance of the maritime domain, and the relationship between different regulatory authorities and the local lives lived, shaped by securitization processes? And how are these processes shaped by the influx of international funds and projects? Combined with strategic developments of relations in the West African maritime sphere, is the push from the international development community to (sustainably) develop marine resources for both local and global use. In recent years, the term “the blue economy” has gained some traction. As a policy tool, it is a concept to promote environmentally and socially sustainable economic growth and social inclusion.

With this in mind, it becomes interesting to explore how the simultaneous push for securing the ocean and using marine resources in and for development purposes influences the various actors involved, policies promoted and practices exercised in the maritime sector. This will provide the starting point for an ethnographic exploration of how the concept of security, and especially maritime security, is imagined, practiced and made politically relevant, as well as changed and contested, by various actors involved in maritime activities and governance. This will be followed up through exploring how maritime resources are governed: Who governs, and how? To whom do those involved in the fishery industry turn to, to seek protection for their interests, support for their ventures and needs, and how do they navigate between different providers? What role in the development of policy is allocated to those who work directly with, or live off, marine resources? I will be especially attentive to how ideas and discourses of security and of development are used, changed, linked or bounded conceptually and empirically in the region. I will focus on a variety of agents; including international and local NGOs, expert advisors and policy advocates, government institutions, and the target populations, and I will investigate how various policies and practices follow.