Paradox at sea: More trawlers on Ghana’s waters against dwindling stocks

Apam, a community in the Central Region, has gained prominence in Ghanaian society as a result of its fishing activities. Fishers in this part of Ghana have enjoyed bumper harvests for many years.

But now, they say the stocks are fast depleting. The sea that once gave them value for their sweat, appears to be losing its resource—fish. Their worry is not only about the depletion of fish stocks, but the possible collapse of the entire fishing industry in the not so distant future. The fishers here are worried that the increasing number of industrial fishing vessels on Ghana’s waters is greatly contributing to the depletion of the stocks.

Amos Appiah, an Apam based fisherman was of the view that the fishing trawlers are becoming many on Ghana’s waters and need to be reduced.

“We are not saying that trawlers shouldn’t be on our waters. We want their numbers to go down. Because they are many, we meet them everywhere and they catch the fishes we go for and sell as saiko,” he stated.

Nii Armah and Kweku Attah, both at Apam expressed similar concerns that the alarming rate at which the stocks were depleting needed government attention.

“The quantity of fish we get has reduced. Those who go for the sardines and herrings don’t get them anymore,” they complained, saying “It is a very worrying thing for us here in Apam. We put in a lot of efforts in our fishing but we get nothing”.

For Kweku Ainoo, a fisherman at Cape Coast, the stocks have drastically reduced due to the influx of Chinese fishing vessels on Ghana’s waters.

“They (the Chinese) catch all types of fishes, including the juveniles which they sell to some of the local fishermen as ‘saiko’ (transshipment),” he said, explaining that “Our business is collapsing. We are really suffering.”

According to him, the business will only get better if government stops the activities of illegal fishing on the seas, saying “although the Chinese are supposed to be fishing offshore, some illegally fish in the inshore zones during the nights.”

“Those Chinese trawlers are destroying the business. They are not Ghanaians but they fish in our waters anyhow. Sometimes, their trawlers destroy our nets,” Ainoo said.

“The Chinese don’t vote here. We vote. But see what they are doing on our waters. They catch all the fishes that we go for and even destroy some,” he bemoaned the operations of Chinese trawlers on Ghana’s waters.

He explains that “The Chinese are supposed to be at the deep seas but during the night, they put off all lights on their trawlers and come to where we fish and fish there. They only leave when the day is about to break.”

For Ainoo, the invasion of Chinese trawlers have resulted in the artisanal fishers needing to triple their efforts at sea before they could get any catch.

“In the past, the Chinese were using bigger mesh nets but these days, they use smaller nets and trawl everything in the sea. Because of that, there is nothing in the sea. We have to triple our efforts at sea and yet, we get nothing,” he said.

According to Kweku Wangar, also a fisherman at Cape Coast, Naval officers and other government enforcement agencies entrusted with the duty to protect Ghana’s waters were not helping matters at all.

He believes that many illegal activities were taking place on the seas because the enforcement agencies have been compromised by some of the fleets, particularly the Chinese trawlers.

“The naval officers take bribes from the Chinese trawlers so when they engage in illegal activities, they are not caught,” he said.

“How do we take care of our children if our livelihood is destroyed through illegal activities by the industrial fishing vessels?” Wangar quizzed.

“Those Chinese trawlers should be given two year closed-season. If the trawlers reduced, the stocks will improve. They have developed a net that catches even the juvenile fishes,” he said.

He wonders why irrespective of the many illegal activities that the Chinese trawlers engaged in, they are not punished by the government.

“I don’t know what the Chinese want. They consider themselves owners of the sea. They don’t even come to the land. They are always on the sea fishing. There is no break for them at all,” Wangarl indicated.

“Even if the sea is full of fishes, won’t it go down if these trawlers are fishing on it every day?” he lamented.

Management plan

Statistics from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD) indicates that annual landings of small pelagics in Ghana have decreased by 86 per cent from 138, 955 metric tons in 1996 to 19,608 metric tons in 2016.

Many of the players in the fisheries industry, especially the artisanal fishers, have in recent times expressed concerns over the issue of overcapitalization and dwindling stocks.

The 2015 to 2019 Fisheries Management Plan of Ghana indicates that in 2014 Ghana had 403 semi-industrial (inshore) vessels, 107 industrial trawlers, 20 tuna bait-boats, 17 tuna purse seine vessels, and 9,951 artisanal canoes on her waters.

In the Management Plan, the Government commits to achieving a 50% reduction in fishing days of industrial trawlers over a period of three years starting in 2015. In 2012, the Government also enacted a moratorium on new fishing licenses and replacement of old vessels in the industrial trawl sector.

At the end of 2017, there were 76 trawlers with licenses to fish in Ghana, down from 107 in 2014. However, according to a recent study by Professor Wisdom Akpalu of UNU-WIDER, and corroborated by data on licensed fishing days from the World Bank, average fishing effort of trawlers has increased over this period. It is therefore not clear that the reduction in the number of trawlers has led to a reduction in total trawling activities.

In addition, a report published in January by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and Hen Mpoano, reveals that new industrial trawlers received licences to fish in 2017, while at least half of the 68 industrial trawlers licensed to fish from March–June 2018, were built in 2013 or later, despite the 2012 moratorium.

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