A hungry man is an angry man:…How depleting fish stock is abetting gender-based violence (GBV) in fishing communities


The fishing industry is critical to the economic growth of the country, and serves as livelihood for the fisher folk.

However, over the last decade, there has been dwindling of fish stock in the coastal regions of the country, and this has been largely attributed to climate change and illegal fishing activities, such as undersized fish nets, use of light and dynamite, use of explosives and illegal fish trans-shipment.

Over the last three years, the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture has introduced Closed Season in Ghana for the industry to: 1) reduce the excessive pressure on stocks, 2) allow gravid fish to spawn in the peak season, coinciding in the months of July to September, and 3) protect marine habitat and biodiversity to yield more catch.

In the fishing industry, men usually go on the sea for the fish catch, spend two or three days on the sea, and come back to sell them to earn a living. Most times, their activities are supported heavily by women – both logistically and financially – and this could be a wife of or a business partner.

But in recent years, the support from the women is relegated to the background by some men as some of the fishermen do not make proper account to the women, and usually attribute it to low fish catch.

As a result, misunderstandings sometimes ensue and it leads to the collapse of their business, failed marriages as well as gender-based violence, which has been high in recent times.

Support given to the fishermen for fishing

The business partner or wife of the fishermen supports the business by purchasing diesel for the canoe, premix for outboard motor, fish nets, hook, line, knot, fishing rod and bait.

Some occurrences by the fisher folk on GBV

Lydia Mensah, Konkonhema at New Takoradi, pointed out that there have been cases of gender-based violence within the fishing communities.

Given instances in which GBV had occurred, she recalled that a fisherman (name withheld) from a different region had a business partner at New Takoradi but was misinterpreted as a lover by the community members. He then had a chat with the wife that the business partner was not what she claims to be.

A misunderstanding ensued and the partner halted the financial support she was giving to the fisherman. Meanwhile, the fisherman owed the partner and was not able to pay since business at that time was not encouraging. The debt issue was sent to the police station, and then later to the court, for it to be settled.

The fisherman could not be in the fishing business since the canoe that he was using was for the partner, and this affected him physically and psychologically as he did not know what to do and was the breadwinner of the family.

In another instance, she mentioned that some of the canoe owners are not transparent in their dealings with the other fishermen on-board. They cheat them and this, sometimes, leads to physical abuse, and they had to discontinue working with the canoe owner.

Uncle Ato Kwamena, a fisherman at New Takoradi who has been in the fishing business for 30 years with 12 children, explained that: “My two wives usually support me when I am going on fishing mission. After two or three days when I am back, I give them the fish to sell, they take their profit and then give me money on what they have sold. Sometimes, I do not take the money from them, it can accumulate for about two weeks or a month before they render account”, he narrated.

Uncle Ato recalled that there are times that he gives basins of fish to some of the women to sell at a given price but end up paying different amount lesser than what was agreed, and this leads to argument or fight that ends up at the Chief Fisherman’s house or the Police Station for settlement as well as payment.

Egya Gyaaba, a fisherman at Sekondi, said he is supported by a business partner who is a woman and renders account to her after every trip and it has been a cordial relationship so far.

According to him, there are few times that he does not make profit and even with that it is understandable, as he indicated that: “I pay it bit by bit until I am able to pay all”.

Mavis Essuon, a canoe owner who has been in the fishing business for close to 40 years mentioned that the price of diesel has gone up while fish catch has been low.

“I support my husband financially to buy all the needed equipment for fishing as well as diesel but when he returns, he gives me the fish and takes the money back without paying for what I had invested before he went for fishing, and this has been going on for a long time,” she lamented.

For instance, during closed season, she said her husband would pack everything and after closed season, she would continue to support.

“My husband does not pay a cedi on the diesel that I buy for him and when I ask him to render account, he will be raising his voice at me. He would sometimes threaten that he would go for another woman to fund his business if I cannot continue to support him.

Currently, Mavis is divorced with two children since there is always misunderstanding. “What led to the divorce was that I asked him to pay for the diesel I had been buying for the business, and he pushed me and I fell on the floor with a scar,” she said.

Asked if she reported to the Police, she said no, with the explanation that he is the father of her children and also feared he could be sent to prison.

Mavis now has a new team with which she is working. She said it is not every trip that she buys the diesel, and the new team accounts to her every two weeks – which is far better.

Aba Enyam, Konkohenmaa of Axim Apewosika in the Nzema area, remarked that “in the early days of fishing business, there was no IUU practices, business was good and we had money to take care of our children”.

However, she said same cannot be said of today. “There is hardship, we go for loans and give it to our husbands to go fishing but they come back empty-handed and it becomes debt. When it happens like that I go through a lot of hardship as a woman taking care of the home.” “We do not get the fish like we used to in the olden days, so we are always going through hardships,” she bemoaned.

Now Aba Enyam is convinced that if the women come together and reject fish that goes bad, it will compel the men to stop using illegal means to catch fish, and it will also go a long way to replenish the stock.

“But I can say that the chemicals used in harvesting the fish is part of the reason we are not getting value for our fish,” Aba Enyam stated.

“We have resolve not to buy fish caught with light or other chemicals. This time, we are serious about it; if we reject these bad fishes from the fishermen for some few days, they will stop using the chemicals to fish.”

“If I go to market and do not make good sale, he gets angry. This anger is sometimes transferred to me and the children,” she recounted.

Moreover, Aba Enyam narrated instances which brings about abuses. For her, the man has a lot of problems to think about, such as premix fuel, low fish catch, among others. So, if he struggles to get small fish, he expects the woman or wife to sell and bring him a lot of money to settle his debt.

“So, if I come home with little money, he becomes furious because he thinks I am the cause of his problem,” she said. She explains that it is the same money from the fishing that she and her husband use in taking care of the children in school, family issues and other related cost of the business they are doing.


In an interview, the Western Regional Vice President of the National Fish Processors and Traders Association (NAFPTA), Mrs. Emelia Abaka-Edu, admitted that there are scores of issues of GBV but hardly do the fisher folk report on it.

For her, one gets to know some of these issues through conversation with them. But there are few GBV that she had witnessed in recent times.

She narrated that a migrant fisherman from Moree in the Central Region who lives in the same vicinity at Apewosika in Axim went for fishing and upon returning, called the wife severally without any response. She said the fisherman had to make another call through a colleague’s wife. As soon as the wife came on the line, he said: “Hey woman, where have you been”? She responded that the phone is in a margarine bucket so, she did not hear the phone ring.

He called the wife all sort of names, insisting that he bought the phone for the wife so that they could communicate.

“If I were closer to you, you would get some beatings from me, you good for nothing woman. I’m almost at the shore, meet me so you can take the fish that we had for you to sell,” the man said to the wife.

According to Mrs. Abakah-Edu, she attempted to advise the man about his choice of words that he used on the wife but he was not perturbed, insisting: “I bought the phone for her to receive my calls that’s all”, and he walked away.

Also, the NAFPTA Vice President pointed out that some of the women do not respect the men they work with.

“Just last week a fisherman in the same area asked the wife to render account on fish which had been sold for over a month so he would be able to know the money available to expand their business or to support another project.

“The woman started shouting, saying: ‘Render account for what; don’t you eat in the house? I don’t have any money to give’, and she was shouting on the man.”

“The man folded his arms, looked at her and then went to sit under a tree”. So, there are women who can scream and shout on men and you’ll be amazed,” she added.

Also, she admitted that because there has been a decline in fish stock for some years now, when women take fish from the fishermen and are not able to pay because the amount is huge, all the men ask for is sex in exchange.

This is something which is ongoing in the fishing industry, and stakeholders should come together to address it.

GBV is not always about physical abuse, but also about verbal abuse which can sometimes demoralise the persons involved.


Victims of GBV need to voice out and report such issue to the appropriate quarters – such as the Department of Gender under the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection and the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit under the Ghana Police Service – so it can be solved amicably.

Also, there should be proper record keeping as well as written agreement before the women or partners invest into the fishing business.

Leave a Reply