In most Liberian households, fermented fish, also known as muen-muen, is a cherished delicacy that provides rich ingredients for local dishes. Due to its wide consumption, the muen-muen has been a significant source of income for fisherfolks involved in the trade. “I sell a barrel of ‘muen-muen’ for Liberian Dollars $12,000 (US$63.00 approx). And sometimes I sell up to four barrels a day”, said Dorcas Weah, a fishmonger in Marshall, a sprawling fishing community about 60 kilometers away from Monrovia. Some of Dorcas’ customers would travel miles from as far as Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties in the northern and southern parts of Liberia.


By Edward Blamo

Business for Dorcas has been slowed since a ban was imposed on muen-muen fishing by the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), the regulator of fisheries in Liberia, due mainly to the “environmental pollution” the process of fish fermentation causes.

“These days, we are even scared to fix muen-muen at our homes because when people inhale the scent, they’ll call city police to arrest us”, said Irene Myers, a fishmonger in Kru Beach in Robertsport City, Grand Cape Mount County. There are two major forms of muen-muen harvesting in Liberia. On the one hand, a ‘circle net’ is deployed mainly in a shallow area and allowed to sit on the seabed for a catch. The fish caught would remain trapped and stay for days before being hauled ashore for harvest. A NAFAA release      found that the method pollutes the ocean with dead fish, which scares away other fish species. This form of fishing catches juvenile species which otherwise could have been allowed to grow to become commercially viable. It undermines the potential of the regeneration of the fish population into commercially viable catch.

On the other hand, local fishermen would cast their nets unattended for several days to allow for the fermenting of their catch using a ‘Shark net’, a method preferred by Kru communities. This type of fishing can rot the fish due to the time the net might stay in the water. The rotten fish is then sold to the community or discarded by the fishers.

I support the temporary ban because of the need for more studies on this kind of fishery in Liberia”, said Eric Patten, lecturer of Fisheries Science at the University of Liberia. Eric, who returned from a tour of fishing communities to assess the impact of the fishing practice with support from Conservation International, believes any study on the fishery method must also consider the number of people dependent on this kind of fishing and the environmental impact.

No refrigeration to Preserve Fish

Because of a shortage of fish processing facilities in Liberia, most fishermen considered muen-muen a preservation method to reduce post-harvest loss. “Here in Robertsport, we always get muen-muen because of the time it takes for us to land with our catches. What do you expect us to do when large amounts of our catch get rotten before we even land?” Nimene Doe, newly elected Collaborative Management Association (CMA) president in Robertsport queried. Doe thinks implementing a ban on muen-muen fishing and harvesting will be cumbersome. “When we sell the fish to the fishmongers, they have their own way of preserving it by adding salt and others to turn into muen-muen”.

The decision to ban the fishing practice was reached with fishing chiefs from coastal counties in June 2023. It emanated from a tour of fishing communities in May 2023 and a meeting with fisher folks including the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association (LAFA) and the Montserrado and Bomi Counties Collaborative Management Association (CMA). “These days, to get catch is difficult. Our fish are going away. We need to find a way to stop all bad fishing practices”, said Jerry Blamo, President of the Liberia Artisanal Fishermen Association (LAFA).

A joint task force, comprising fishermen and law enforcement officers from the government, was mandated to ensure full compliance with the mandate by guaranteeing that “Anyone caught in violation will face the full weight of the law.” The task force’s target has been migrant fishers who would travel from neighboring countries to fish.  When reached by email in October to further discuss the ban, the head of Communications at NAFAA, Lewis Konoe, said he was referring the queries to the department in charge for response. However, the interview never occurred despite several follow-up phone calls.

Romeo Dayougar, a fisherman in Robertsport, said the migrant fishers who migrate to Robertsport are primarily from neighboring Sierra Leone. “They get fresh catches, but because of their distances, the catches get rot. As a fisherman, you know the time you go fish, but you do not know the time you will return”.

Muen-muen has helped us a lot, said Fishmonger Miatta Dukuly, who boasts of being in the business for about 25 years. “We sometimes have people coming to buy to ship it to the US and other countries.”

For her, the policy needs to be adequately studied before being enforced. “Fishermen are not refusing to abide by the policy. All we need is time to adjust”, she said.

Even as fisherman Romeo and others await a full-scale study on the fishing method, multiple research studies have shown that there is more to fermented fish than just its potential impact on the marine environment. Fermented fish are said to be widely consumed in Africa and Asia, according to a 2017 advances in food and nutrition research. Another comprehensive review with future insights on the processing and safety of fermented fish and the associated changes reported  that fermented fish does have health benefits as it does not change the total protein content in the fermented fish product.

As the clock ticks in the implementation of the ban, the livelihoods of fishmongers like Miatta and the sustainable management of the ocean remain at stake. Howbeit, enforcement of the ban which would require the full cooperation of all fishers can be achieved through a thorough assessment aimed at understanding the muen-muen fishing, its economic viability, and its impact on the marine environment and fisher’s livelihood opportunities.