If there is anything today that is killing the country’s economy slowly and silently, it can be no other thing than ‘Saiko’ – a destructive form of illegal fishing where industrial trawlers target the staple catch of canoe fishers before selling these fish back to local fishing communities for profit.
According to a report dubbed ‘Stolen at Sea: How illegal saiko fishing is fueling the collapse of Ghana’s fisheries’, approximately 100,000 tonnes of fish were landed illegally in 2017, representing 60 percent of total catches. The value of these fish is estimated to be between US$ 40.6 and US$ 50.7 million when sold at sea, and between US$52.7 million and US$ 81.1 million when sold at the saiko landing sites of Elmina, Apam and Axim.
Revenue is not the only affected in this illegal trade; there is also impact on job losses. An average saiko canoe in a single trip, the report says, has the capacity to hold around 26 tonnes of fish, which is equivalent of about 450 artisanal fishing trips. The effect of this is that, while artisanal fishing offers direct employment to around 60 fishers for every 100 tonnes of fish, saiko offers 40 times fewer jobs – meaning 1.5 jobs per 100 tonnes.
What is more horrifying is that, many of these fish are caught in their juvenile state – a practice that the report says could lead to the imminent collapse of the small pelagic fishery business reserved for only small artisanal fishers, further undermining all efforts to rebuild stocks, including the 2019 closed season for the artisanal and inshore fleets.
When the practice is not put to a stop, an industry which is the source of livelihood for over 2 million people along the coast of Ghana stands to collapse, creating national security concerns as unemployment comes with a lot of deviant behavior and social vices.
Even though government has said it will ban all domestic and international fleet that are involved in Saiko fishing, real action is yet to be seen form the powers that be.
The report recommends that stiffer punishment be applied to people and companies found culpable in this nation-wrecking act as most cases of saiko are often settled behind closed doors where perpetrators are often treated with kid gloves, making it less of a punishment that will which tends to motivate to continue engaging in this illegal practice.
“Saiko activities are widespread and there is a low risk of arrest and sanction. Cases are generally settled through opaque, out of court settlement processes, and there are no known examples of the minimum fines in the legislation being paid. The report calls for intensified enforcement against saiko and the transparent prosecution of cases through the court process. Offenders must be sanctioned with the full force of the law to ensure deterrence.
Unless ambitious action is taken, scientists predict that Ghana’s small pelagic fishery could collapse in less than six years and as early as 2020. The findings of the report show that eliminating saiko is vital to preventing this collapse, and safeguarding the livelihoods of millions living in coastal communities, and the food security of the nation,” the report recommends.