The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD) has issued a directive to industrial trawlers to make sure they use appropriate fishing nets to prevent catching disproportionate amounts of juvenile and small pelagic fish.
The small pelagic fishery is the mainstay of small-scale fishers, with around 2.7 million Ghanaians depending on it for their income and food security.
The ministry’s announcement was informed by a 2019 report by the Environmental Justice Foundation on fishing gear, which revealed that a commonly-used trawler net – with a vertical opening of nearly 40 metres – catches large quantities of pelagic and semi-pelagic fish.
According to the report: “Every haul brought in a wide range of fish species, but the majority caught during the audit were pelagic and semi-pelagic fish”. While there is an allowance for by-catch (thought to be 10-15 percent), the trawlers are not licenced to target these fish.
This raises urgent questions about why such large amounts of non-target species are being landed at ports; and what checks, if any, are being conducted to ensure the allowed proportion of by-catch is being adhered to.
The report also casts doubt on how effective the current observer system is, given that this occurs in the context of widespread suspected illegal fishing.
Alongside this, the report also noted a lack of knowledge in key institutions: citing the fact that few staff at the Fisheries Commission were able to tell the difference between various types of nets.
It also revealed that many key vessel documents were not in English, creating a critical barrier to enforcement of the 2002 Fisheries Act, since officers of the Fisheries Commission and the Fisheries Enforcement Unit were unable to determine whether information is “true, complete and correct”.
Meanwhile, the Fisheries Regulations 2010, states clearly that the use of nets which is less than 50mm in stretched diagonal length in the marine waters or a riverine system, or a monofilament set-net the mesh of which is less than75mm are prohibited.
In a move applauded by the EJF, the organisation said the directive must be strictly adhered to and trawlers found to contravene the regulation must be sanctioned. The organization has also advocated a wide reform, including disclosure of beneficial ownership in the industry.
“It is vital to enforce these requirements rigorously and apply punitive sanctions if they are broken,” says EJF.
Steve Trent, CEO and founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation said: “We support these reforms by the ministry, and encourage their rigorous implementation along with deterrent sanctions for those breaking the law – with crimes and the punishments made public”.