Ghana: Salvaging Ghana's Artisanal Fisheries

press release

Ghana's fisheries sector has made significant contributions to national economic development objectives related to employment, livelihood support, poverty reduction, food security, foreign exchange earnings and resource sustainability.

Fish is a preferred source of animal protein in Ghana and about 75 percent of the total domestic production of fish is consumed locally. Fish is also expected to contribute 60 percent of animal protein intake, with per capita consumption estimated at about 25kg per annum.

It is the country's most important non-traditional export commodity, while the fisheries sub-sector accounts for about 5 percent of the agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with export earnings from fish and fishery products, on average, accounting for approximately 60 million US Dollars annually.

More than 2 million Ghanaians― fishermen, processors and traders, and their dependants, amounting to about 10% of the population― participate in this sector.

The fishing industry in Ghana is based on resources from the marine, inland (freshwater) and aquaculture sectors, the main sources of freshwater fish being the Volta Lake, reservoirs, fishponds and coastal lagoons. The artisanal fishing sector represents one of the three main sectors of marine fishing in Ghana.

Artisanal fishing or traditional/subsistence fishing comprises various small-scale, low-technology and low-capital fishing practices undertaken by individual fishing households or groups (as opposed to commercial companies). Many of these households or groups are of coastal or island ethnic groups which make short (rarely overnight) fishing trips close to the shore and their produce is usually not processed, and is mainly for local consumption.

Artisanal fishing uses traditional fishing techniques such as rod and tackle, fishing arrows and harpoons, cast nets and small traditional fishing boats.

Artisanal fishing may, however, be undertaken for both commercial and subsistence reasons in contrast with large-scale modern commercial fishing practices, in that it is often less wasteful and less stressful on fish populations than modern industrial fishing.

Low technology is simple technology, often of a traditional or non-mechanical kind, such as crafts and tools that pre-date the Industrial Revolution. Low technology can typically be practised or fabricated with a minimum of capital investment by an individual or small group of individuals, while the knowledge of the practice can be completely comprehended by a single individual, free from increasing specialization and compartmentalization.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world rely on artisanal fisheries to live. Artisanal fishing is critically important for not only food, but also for jobs, income, nutrition, food security, sustainable livelihoods and poverty alleviation. Artisanal fisheries are the predominant form of fisheries in "tropical developing countries" such as Ghana and Nigeria.

The importance of artisanal and small-scale fisheries has been recognized in the first internationally-agreed instrument dedicated entirely to small-scale fisheries. This agreement, drafted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, is titled the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, the implementation of which began in 2015.

There is an intricate link, it must be noted, between various fishing techniques and knowledge about the fish and their behaviour including migration, foraging and habitat―the effective use of fishing techniques often depending on this additional knowledge, while the appropriate techniques are dictated mainly by the target species and by its habitat.

Fishing techniques can be contrasted with fishing tackle which refers to the physical equipment that is used when fishing, whereas fishing techniques refer to the manner in which the tackle is used when fishing.

Some fishing techniques can be destructive, leading to irreversible damage to aquatic habitats and ecosystems. In other words, many fishing techniques can be destructive if used inappropriately, with some of the practices particularly likely to result in irreversible damage.

These practices are mostly, though not always, illegal and are often inadequately enforced, where they are illegal. Examples of destructive techniques are dynamite fishing, bottom trawling and cyanide fishing among others.

Dynamite fishing involves the killing of fish by the shock from the explosion which are, then, skimmed from the surface or collected from the bottom. The explosions, which are particularly harmful to coral reefs, indiscriminately kill large numbers of fish and other marine organisms in the vicinity and can damage or destroy the physical environment.

Bottom trawling, also referred to as 'dragging,' is done by towing a trawl (fishing net) along the sea floor, targeting both bottom-living fish (groundfish) and semi-pelagic species such as cod, squid, shrimp and rockfish.

Cyanide fishing, on the other hand, is a method of collecting live fish mainly for use in aquariums and involves spraying a sodium cyanide mixture into the desired fish's habitat in order to stun the fish. The practice hurts not only the target population, but also many other marine organisms, including coral and the coral reefs.

Recent studies have shown that the combination of cyanide use and stress of post-capture handling results in mortality of up to 75% of the organisms within less than 48 hours of capture. With such high mortality numbers, a greater number of fishes must be caught in order to offset post-catch death.

As already noted, artisanal fisheries are an increasingly important basis of livelihoods; yet the increase of effort in artisanal fishing has, in some cases, undermined the very basis of the livelihoods that it attempts to improve and increases the fishers' vulnerability through conflict and competition over resources

In reaction to increasing prices of inputs, increasing competition and reduced profitability of fishing activities, some owners, in order to bring in a maximum catch with relatively low effort, have resorted to destructive fishing practices, such as dynamite use, while promoting overfishing, with destructive consequences for artisanal fishing and artisanal fishers' livelihoods.

One other constraint in fisheries management is the limited means for the implementation and enforcement of formal fisheries management regulations.

Fisheries management rules defined and executed by artisanal fishers and the majority of formal fisheries legislation are currently not enforced―challenges which call for responsible and effective fisheries management, including enforcing existing fisheries legislation, with the active involvement of artisanal fishers.

Indeed, Government is not looking on as the challenges persist. Ghana's Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Fisheries Commission, together with other stakeholders, are working tirelessly to overcome the challenges of the artisanal fishing and the fisheries sector as a whole.

One most important stakeholder which deserves recognition is the European Union (EU) which is implementing, among others, a four-year fisheries governance project dubbed: Far Ban Bo (FBB) project.

With funding from the EU, FBB is designed, among others, to contain the challenges of overfishing and to address low compliance with fisheries regulations and the weak capacity for the enforcement of fisheries laws.

In effect, the project seeks to empower community participation in the management of their resources by forming IUU Community Monitoring Groups (CMGs) that plan actions for improved IUU monitoring at the local level that links to the national level multi-stakeholder platforms for follow-ups on arrest and prosecution for cases reported.

If effectively implemented, FBB is expected to contribute significantly to improving livelihoods and the nutritional status of smallholder fishers as well as other users of fisheries resources, through social and economic safeguards.

FBB is being implemented by a consortium of three― CARE (the lead), Friends of the Nation (FoN) and OXFAM-in-Ghana ―in collaboration with key fishery stakeholders, such as Smallholder Fishery Associations, Fisheries Commission and the Fisheries Alliance.

The writer is a freelance journalist and a lawyer.

By G.D. Zaney, Esq.

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