Dwindling fish stock and matters arising

Tema, Aug 17, GNA – Fresh fish ooooo! Fresh fish oooo!! Fresh fishooo!!! These were the shouts from fresh-fish sellers – mostly women from Teshie (eeegmooo, eegmooo, eeegmoo, they shout it in the Ga Language) – that greeted residents of La and its environs in the Greater Accra Region where I grew up.

These shouts, which are heard at least every 10 minutes from the fish-sellers from sunrise through late afternoon, were pleasant to the ears as they meant there was an abundance of fish in the system – especially between July and early September.

During this period in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, fresh-fish appeared in the coastal communities like the biblical manna falling from the skies for the Israelites as people looked forward to buying pans full of fish for a few coins.

In those days the elderly, young, employed and unemployed could buy fish without much sweat: they smoked, cooked and fried to their taste. While some preferred consuming their own with gari soaked with the cooked fish stock, others went for well-prepared Ga kenkey and banku. And oh, I almost forgot – fresh fish was never consumed without hot red or kpakposhito (green pepper) accompanying it.

Fisherfolks and residents in coastal areas of the Greater Accra Region could bet their last pesewa that the change in weather from hot to cold meant an abundance of different species of sardinella (what Ghanaians refer to as herrings, though according to some fishermen we do not have herrings in Ghanaian waters) and mackerel – popularly known as salmon among Ghanaians.

Less Fish

For some years now, as fishermen continuously complain about less catch, fish-sellers and consumers also have to spend more to purchase.

Several media reports over the years have indicated that for about 15 years now the fish catch has gradually been going down, a situation experts claim will spell doom for the sector if not checked.

These fishermen observe that after several hours at sea they come back with very low catch, thus making less profit as they burn premix fuel without anything good to show.

Apart from not getting the bumper catch as expected in August, they are losing out on some species they used to catch as they are no longer available.

Illegal Fishing Activities

The dwindling of fish stock in Ghana’s waters has been largely attributed to illegal fishing activities, which include the use of explosives, chemicals, undersized fishing nets, use of light, bamboo and other fish-aggregating devices.

Recently, Mrs. Elizabeth Naa Afoley Quaye, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD), condemned the reckless exploitation and depletion of the fishery resources of Ghana – which she said will lead to total collapse of the sector, with serious economic, social, nutritional and food security consequences the country will not be able to accommodate.

“If unregulated and illegal fishing practices such as the indiscriminate and illegal fishing practices like indiscriminate use of explosives, chemicals, undersized-mesh nets, light, bamboo and other fish-aggregating devices to fish are not stopped, the fisheries sector will collapse,” she said during a stakeholders’ meeting in Accra.

To curb such illegalities in the sector, several measures were put in place – including educating fishermen on the effects of their activities. Introduction of a taskforce made up of fisherfolk was also formulated to correct the issue.

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During inauguration of the Fisheries Watch Volunteers Taskforce in May 2017, at Otrokpe in the Dangme East district of the Greater Accra Region, some fisherfolk who had a misconception about the mandate of taskforce members stormed the inauguration ground and disrupted the programme by pulling down erected canopies and throwing away plastic chairs occupied by invited guests. There were other protestations against formation of the taskforce in other fishing communities of the country.

This was followed by an attack on members of the Fisheries Volunteer Taskforce in Prampram waters during June, 2017. The attacking group from Akplabanya and its environs in the Ada West Municipality – numbering about 15 and fully armed with guns, machetes, bows and arrows and other weapons – allegedly shot at the unarmed task force members.

Gains from Fight Against Illegal Fishing

Despite these challenges in fighting illegal fishing activities within our waters, the crackdown on them by the Fisheries Commission and Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MFAD) has yielded a total of GH¢13,665,503.

The amount accrued from fines imposed on 100 fishermen prosecuted out of over 200 perpetrators arrested under implementation of the West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme (WARFP).

Mr. Michael Dawutey, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme, Ghana, disclosed this to the Ghana News Agency in Tema. According to him, GH¢6,438,023 out of the figure has been paid into the Fisheries Development Fund.

Mr. Dawutey added that 3,000 monofilaments nets, 600 generators and light accessories, as well as 120,000 metric tonnes of fish were also confiscated.

The US$53million WARFP commenced in 2012 in Ghana with the aim of improving sustainable management of the country’s fish and aquaculture resources, and reducing illegal fishing.

Closed Fishing Season

Another measure to replenish Ghana’s fish stock was the introduction of fishing bans by the Fisheries Commission and MoFAD. Industrial and tuna trawlers observed the closed fishing season in November 2016, January and February 2017, as well as January and February 2018.

The Ghana Industrial Trawlers Association (GITA) and other fishing stakeholders called for t extension of the fishing ban to cover artisan fishing, as according to them having a closed season for only vessels will not yield the needed result.

One such stakeholder, Mr. Richster Nii Armah Amarfio – a fisheries advocate, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency said until the season closure is extended to artisan fishing which accounts for about 64 percent of the country’s fishing, the purpose of the closure will not be met.

He noted that trawlers only form 18 percent of the country’s fishing activities, and therefore having a season closure for them alone is not a good conservative measure to manage the fishing stock of Ghana – explaining that whereas trawlers have licences to do bottom-trawling which target species such as demoiselles, red snappers and the like, artisan fishermen fish for any species and do not even need licence to operate.

According him, a research in Ghana’s waters by the Dr. Nansen Norwegian Research Vessel, indicated clearly that the country had not overfished its demersal stock, and that there is an appreciable stock level of ‘carringes’, horse-mackerel and its family – which he said are mid-water fishes.

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Mr. Amarfio, who is also a fisherman, however added the research noted that sardine as stock is heavily threatened – hence the need for a season closure for that stock which is mostly fished by artisan fishers.

He questioned what the benefit would be for the country if the closed season was for trawlers alone, while over 12,000 canoes have the freedom to fish all year round for the affected species.

He added that it is unfortunate that whereas in Gambia fishermen are not allowed to fish some metres from the shoreline because that is where the fishes deliver their offspring, in Ghana artisan fishermen can fish anywhere with any net size – leading to the catching of juvenile fish.

Mr. Oyeman Ofori-Ani, Board Secretary of GITA, on his part called on the Fisheries Commission and MoFAD to acquire a fishing research vessel to help obtain data on the country’s fishing activities – indicating that without a research vessel, it will be difficult for the ministry and the Commission to assess impact and benefits from observing the closed season.

He explained that with the availability of a research vessel, the Commission could gather data on the country’s fish stock before a closed season began, and just before the ban is lifted.

This, he noted, would help the ministry and government put in appropriate measures that could help replenish the dwindling stock, as a comparison of the data before and after would be obtained scientifically – and that is the only way to have a sustainable fishing sector.

To fully derive the benefits from the closed season, the ministry announced its intended ban on artisanal vessels to commence from August 7 and end on September 4, 2018.

The announcement was greeted with mixed feeling as some supported the intended ban while other vehemently protested against it, citing short notice from the ministry.

After several back and forth gestures from stakeholders – including the traditional leaders of the Greater Accra Region, who questioned the rationale for the ban period as that is when they need fish to celebrate the Homowo Festival – Mrs. Quaye announced a postponement of the ban to 2019 by Cabinet.

The announcement was greeted with some joy from the fisherfolk and traditional leaders, with Nii Adjei Kraku II – Paramount Chief of Tema – commending government for listening to the people’s voice.

After the postponement, fishermen are still complaining of less catch and low income to pay their children’s school fees come September. The question is was the decision to postpone the ban right and the solution to the dwindling stock? I believe that if the only solution to replenishing the stock was through the ban, it should have been carried through and alternative income-making ventures provided for fisherfolk.

What would happen if MoFAD and the Fisheries Commission decide to introduce another ban for industrial trawlers before August 2019? Will they happily and willingly oblige, or they would follow the footsteps of the artisanal vessels and protest?

GNA

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