Editorial: A worrying development

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The country’s Fisheries Management Plan, which is currently under review, states that the marine fisheries can sustain 48 trawlers. Yet 76 trawlers were licensed as at the end of 2019.

Ghana’s fish population is already in dire straits and the arrival into Ghanaian waters of three new trawlers from China adds to the woes of the fishing industry. The new vessels – Yu Feng 1, 3 and 4- were all built in China in 2016, and were all flying the Chinese flag before arriving in the country.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has confirmed that the vessels are now docked at Tema, registered under the Ghanaian flag and awaiting licensing by the Fisheries Commission.

We find it strange that the Fisheries Commission which is meant to uphold its own Fisheries Management Plan is flouting same with disdain. Consequently, Ghana’s National Canoe Fishermen Council (GNCFC) has written an open letter to the Fisheries Commission opposing any decision to grant these vessels licenses to fish in Ghana’s waters.

Not only is there a government moratorium on fishing licences for new or replacement trawl vessels, in force since 2012, but overfishing and the destructive illegal practices of many trawlers are having a devastating impact on fish populations in Ghana and livelihoods of coastal communities. The country is already confronted with major challenges in controlling the vessels that have existing licenses, yet the Commission sees it fit to license more. Rather astonishing!

“We continue to see large quantities of fish landed by saiko canoes at Elmina fishing harbor, even after government and industry committed to end the practice last November,” says the GNCFC.

The saiko trade – wherein trawlers illegally target the main catch of canoe fishers, transfer it at sea to specially adapted boats, and sell the stolen fish back to local communities ¬– took an estimated 100,000 tonnes of fish in 2017.

This means that just 40% of catches were caught legally and reported to government in that year. EJF has revealed that the vast majority of fish traded through saiko are juveniles. This is extremely worrying, since these young fish are crucial to population recovery.

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