Small-scale fishing industry makes its voice heard in fisheries law reforms

Ghana’s small-scale fishers, fish traders and processors came together last week to present 10 key points they feel should be included in the country’s fisheries law reforms. They call for stricter penalties for fishing with light, chemicals and explosives; mitigation of impacts from offshore oil development; and an end to the damaging illegal practice known as ‘saiko’.

Ghana’s fishing communities are becoming increasingly vulnerable as the fisheries crisis deepens. The average annual income per traditional fishing canoe has dropped by as much as 40% in the last 10 to 15 years, and landings of small pelagic fish – key for local consumption – are at their lowest recorded level since 1980.

As part of the current review of the national fisheries law framework, small-scale fishers, fish traders and processors from the Central Region – represented by the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council (GNCFC) and the National Fish Processors and Traders Association (NAFPTA) – last week presented a 10-point communiqué to the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development.

The communiqué provides a number of recommendations to address the crisis in Ghana’s fisheries: such as stricter penalties for fishing with light, chemicals and explosives, and empowering communities to be able to enforce the law at a local level.

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It also emphasises the need to end the illegal practice of saiko – whereby trawlers increasingly target fish meant for small-scale fishers and transfer them to canoes out at sea for onward sale to local markets.

The fisherfolk strongly recommend that the current law prohibiting saiko be upheld and strictly enforced, along with gear-restrictions to prevent trawlers from targetting juvenile fish and species meant for canoe fishermen.

Illegal fishing and over-capacity of the industrial trawler fleet are major factors driving small-scale fishers to use prohibited fishing methods. Measures recommended in the communiqué – such as lengthening the closed season for trawlers and reducing vessel numbers – would not only give fish stocks a chance to recover, but also give small-scale fishers an incentive to ensure their own methods are legal and sustainable. Expanding the inshore exclusion zone reserved for canoe fishers would also reflect today’s reality wherein fishers travel further out to sea in search of fish because of declining stocks.

Protection of informal yet legitimate rights of access to fisheries is also highlighted in the communiqué. Small-scale fishers in Ghana face loss of access to traditional fishing grounds and landing sites as a result of encroachment from other users and offshore oil development. The law should ensure mandatory consultation with fishing communities on such developments, the communiqué urges; and compensation must be provided for negative impacts.

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Similarly, when conflicts arise at sea, compensation for damage to fishing gear caused by industrial vessels must also be made more accessible to small-scale fishers.

Nana Obrenu Dabum III, Chairman of GNCFC for Central Region said: “Fishing communities must be involved in fisheries decision-making. This won’t just improve the equity and sustainability of the policies; if canoe fishers feel they own the law, and have contributed to it, they will be more likely to comply themselves”.

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