Data from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has indicated that Ghana’s small pelagic fishery industry will collapse within three to seven years, in the absence of robust management interventions.
The EJF, a non-governmental organization promoting sustainable fisheries as part of its functions, has said, annual landings of small pelagics, such as sardinella, have declined from over 250,000 tonnes in the late 1990s to less than 50,000 tonnes today, due to activities such as ‘Saiko’.
The illegal practice of ‘saiko’ fishing – the transhipment of fish at sea from industrial trawlers to local canoes – has had a particularly destructive impact on Ghana’s small pelagic fisheries. The practice, however, has been the major cause, contributing to severely depleted stocks, with a potential devastating implications in the near future.
Ghana is reliant on the fishing industry. It brings over US$500 million into the country every year and employs over 3 million people in the value chain.
Though Saiko remains illegal under Ghanaian law – attracting a fine of between US$100,000 and US$2 million with the minimum fine increasing to US$1 million where catches involve juvenile fish and the use of prohibited fishing gears, the menace is still increasing among fishers.
The saiko trade certainly concerns small pelagics, which in some cases are the major component of frozen slabs. The practice also involves juvenile fish, eroding the reproductive potential of the resource, and further exacerbating the ecological crisis.
Indeed, the EFJ is blaming the over 90 percent of Ghana’s industrial trawl fleet which is linked to Chinese owners as a major cause of the exploitation. These Chinese owners, depends on Ghanaian “front” companies to bypass national laws which forbids their direct operations in Ghana.
Overall, around 40 percent of fish caught in West Africa, is done illegally, with more than 200 villages along Ghana’s coastline relying on fisheries as their primary source of income, the small pelagic fishery, which is crucial for food security and livelihoods, could cost the country following decades of over-exploitation.
The Foundation estimates that illegal fishing by both foreign trawlers and indigenous Ghanaians cost the nation more than US$50 million a year.
The EJF claims that “saiko” fishing, where trawlers target the staple catch of the country’s canoe fishers and sell it back to fishing communities at a profit, landed approximately 100,000 tonnes of fish in 2017, worth US$50 million when sold at sea and up to US$81 million when sold at the ports.
It says, the practice has a negative impact on livelihoods, food security and sustainability.