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Ghana’s Small-Scale Fishing Industry Calls for Tougher Measures

Ghana’s small-scale fishers, fish traders and processors have come together to present 10 key points they feel should be included in the country’s fisheries law reforms. They call for stricter penalties for fishing with light, chemicals and explosives; mitigation of impacts from offshore oil development; and an end to the damaging illegal practice known as “saiko.”

Ghana’s fishing communities are becoming increasingly vulnerable as the crisis in the country’s fisheries deepens. The average annual income per traditional fishing canoe has dropped by as much as 40 percent in the last 10 to 15 years, and landings of small pelagic fish – key for local consumption – are at their lowest recorded level since 1980.

The country is currently undergoing a review of its national fisheries law framework, and last month small-scale fishers, fish traders and processors – represented by the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council and the National Fish Processors and Traders Association – presented a 10-point communiqué to the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development.  

The communiqué provides a number of recommendations to address the crisis in Ghana’s fisheries, such as stricter penalties for fishing with light, chemicals and explosives, and empowering communities to be able to enforce the law at a local level.  

It also emphasizes the need to end the illegal practice of saiko. Originally an informal trading system, where unwanted industrial bycatch would be exchanged at sea for fruit and livestock brought by canoes, saiko is increasingly a part of targeted fishing for the trawlers. The fisherfolk strongly recommend that the current law prohibiting saiko be upheld and strictly enforced, along with gear restrictions to prevent trawlers from targeting juvenile fish and species meant for canoe fishermen.

Illegal fishing and over-capacity of the industrial trawl fleet are major factors driving small-scale fishers to use prohibited fishing methods. Measures recommended in the communiqué – such as lengthening the closed season for trawlers and reducing vessel numbers – would not only give fish stocks a chance to recover, they would also give small-scale fishers an incentive to ensure their own methods are sustainable. Expanding the inshore exclusion zone reserved for canoe fishers would also reflect today’s reality where fishers travel further out to sea in search of fish because of declining stocks.

Protection of informal yet legitimate rights of access to fisheries is also highlighted in the communiqué. Small-scale fishers in Ghana face loss of access to traditional fishing grounds and landing sites as a result of encroachment from other users and offshore oil development. The law should ensure mandatory consultation with fishing communities on such developments, the communiqué urges, and compensation must be provided for negative impacts. Similarly, when conflicts arise at sea, compensation for damage to fishing gear caused by industrial vessels must also be made more accessible to small-scale fishers.

“EJF fully supports the recommendations made in the communiqué,” says Steve Trent, Executive Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation. “The voices of small-scale fishers, traders and processors are a crucial part of the industry and must be heard when it comes to designing fair and sustainable fisheries management for Ghana.”

Kofi Agbogah, Director of Hen Mpoano, says: “The 10 points presented by the communiqué are central to preventing the collapse of Ghana’s fisheries. We urge the Ghanaian government to take them fully into account as part of the fisheries law review.” 

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Ghana’s small-scale fishers, fish traders and processors have come together to present 10 key points they feel should be included in the country’s fisheries law reforms. They call for stricter penalties for fishing with light, chemicals and explosives; mitigation of impacts from offshore oil development; and an end to the damaging illegal practice known as “saiko.”

Ghana’s fishing communities are becoming increasingly vulnerable as the crisis in the country’s fisheries deepens. The average annual income per traditional fishing canoe has dropped by as much as 40 percent in the last 10 to 15 years, and landings of small pelagic fish – key for local consumption – are at their lowest recorded level since 1980.

The country is currently undergoing a review of its national fisheries law framework, and last month small-scale fishers, fish traders and processors – represented by the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council and the National Fish Processors and Traders Association – presented a 10-point communiqué to the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development.  

The communiqué provides a number of recommendations to address the crisis in Ghana’s fisheries, such as stricter penalties for fishing with light, chemicals and explosives, and empowering communities to be able to enforce the law at a local level.  

It also emphasizes the need to end the illegal practice of saiko. Originally an informal trading system, where unwanted industrial bycatch would be exchanged at sea for fruit and livestock brought by canoes, saiko is increasingly a part of targeted fishing for the trawlers. The fisherfolk strongly recommend that the current law prohibiting saiko be upheld and strictly enforced, along with gear restrictions to prevent trawlers from targeting juvenile fish and species meant for canoe fishermen.

Illegal fishing and over-capacity of the industrial trawl fleet are major factors driving small-scale fishers to use prohibited fishing methods. Measures recommended in the communiqué – such as lengthening the closed season for trawlers and reducing vessel numbers – would not only give fish stocks a chance to recover, they would also give small-scale fishers an incentive to ensure their own methods are sustainable. Expanding the inshore exclusion zone reserved for canoe fishers would also reflect today’s reality where fishers travel further out to sea in search of fish because of declining stocks.

Protection of informal yet legitimate rights of access to fisheries is also highlighted in the communiqué. Small-scale fishers in Ghana face loss of access to traditional fishing grounds and landing sites as a result of encroachment from other users and offshore oil development. The law should ensure mandatory consultation with fishing communities on such developments, the communiqué urges, and compensation must be provided for negative impacts. Similarly, when conflicts arise at sea, compensation for damage to fishing gear caused by industrial vessels must also be made more accessible to small-scale fishers.

“EJF fully supports the recommendations made in the communiqué,” says Steve Trent, Executive Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation. “The voices of small-scale fishers, traders and processors are a crucial part of the industry and must be heard when it comes to designing fair and sustainable fisheries management for Ghana.”

Kofi Agbogah, Director of Hen Mpoano, says: “The 10 points presented by the communiqué are central to preventing the collapse of Ghana’s fisheries. We urge the Ghanaian government to take them fully into account as part of the fisheries law review.” 

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