Minister for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD), Elizabeth Afoley Quaye, has said that following postponement of the August Closed Season to next year, her ministry will descend heavily on fishermen who continue to engage in all forms of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, as it moves to recover dwindling stocks.
A statement signed by the minister said, “going forward MoFAD will have zero tolerance for all forms of illegal fishing such as fishing with light, mono-filament nets in marine waters, small mesh size, chemicals and explosives.”
According to the minister, the menace of illegal fishing, including Saiko and transshipment, costs the country millions in lost revenue and has also contributed to dwindling fish stock. A recent study by Frontiers in Marine Science, showed that coastal countries in the West Africa region lose about USD 2.3billion annually to illegal fishing and also affects the livelihoods of fisher folks in these coastal communities.
Together with increased fishing effort over the years, illegal fishing and overfishing have caused a massive depletion to Ghana’s fish stocks which is presently at unsustainable levels for small pelagics. Government for this reason, announced a closed season to help revive the dying sector but later rescinded its decision owing to protests from fisherfolk.
Speaking at a stakeholder engagement following the announcement of the postponed closed season, Elisabeth Afoley Qauye said, “We are giving you one whole year to think through and prepare yourselves and your minds to do it. Next year, let not any fisher come and say that they didn’t know.”
The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, (MoFAD) last month announced a one-month closed season for all artisanal fleet with the exception of tuna fleet, as part of urgent measures meant to restore dwindling fish stocks which is said to have reached unsustainable levels. The Closed season was scheduled to commence on 7th August and end on 4th September.
The decision followed a technical report from the Scientific and Technical Working Group (STWG) that found that small pelagic species including sardinella, anchovies and mackerel were heavily overfished and could collapse in as little as two years if fishing effort is maintained at the present rate.
However, there were mixed reactions from stakeholders in the sector, including fishermen, fish processors and CSOs who were divided over the issue.
In the Western Region, for example, about 200 fisherfolk took to the streets moments after the announcement to protest against the ban, explaining that they weren’t adequately engaged and notified to prepare for the closed season.
They added that August was a period of bumper harvest during which they could make enough returns on their investments to pay back loans they had acquired from banks and other financial institutions.
On the other hand, Fisheries Advisor at the USAID/ Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP), Kofi Agbogah argued that, the reason for the bumper harvest in August was a result of pregnant fish moving towards the shallow and cooler waters to spawn. He explained that it was for this purpose that the closed season was recommended to allow for the pregnant fishes to effectively spawn so that landings that had fallen below 14% of volumes recorded in 1990 could be regained. He said this was highly viable as one fish has the potential of laying over 25, 000 eggs at a time.
Chief Director at MoFAD, Prof. Francis Nunoo, also explained that the small pelagics, also known as ‘the People’s fish,’ were now within volumes of less than 20, 000 metric tonnes, which called for a concerted effort, including the implementation of a closed season. He said this was part of the bigger National Fisheries Management Plan towards reviving dwindling stocks.
However, increased pressure from fisherfolk led government to rescind its decision to implement the closed season policy as it “wants all the fisherfolk to be adequately prepared.”
According to the statement from the ministry, it took the decision “following further engagement with stakeholders in the fishing industry and fishing communities.”
“The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development recognises that the institution of a closed season is important for safeguarding our fish stocks and thereby the livelihoods of our fishes,” the statement read.
“MoFAD will therefore continue engaging the fishing industry and communities to make necessary preparations towards an effective implementation next year,” the statement concluded.
Kennedy Aryeetey Tetteh | thebftonline.com | Ghana