Unethical practices and fewer catches are forcing Ghana to start importing fish
Declining catches are devastating Ghana’s fishing industry. They have been falling since the mid-1980s destroying the livelihoods of the 2 million-strong workforce. The artisanal sector is particularly badly hit.
Ghana, the fourth largest consumer of fish in Africa, now has to import fish to meet demand.
Researchers are pointing to a rise in sea temperature and a loss of zooplankton as environmental causes for the collapse, but Dr Francis Nunoo at the University of Ghana says climate change has not been isolated as the single factor.
Ghana has open unregulated fisheries access to all artisanal fishermen who practice subsistence or small-scale commercial fishing.
On top of this more than 100 industrial trawlers are registered under the Ghanaian flag. Paul Bannerman, Director of the Marine Fisheries Research Division, says this is twice as many as is sustainable.
It is widely thought that foreign vessels fish illegally in Ghana’s waters which the navy does not have the capacity to police effectively.
Factory ships lurking beyond the horizon buy valuable fish such as tuna on a black market from the artisanal fleet for exportation to Europe and Asia. However, the route to market is so convoluted it is difficult to trace fish to where they were caught.
Bad fishing practices are degrading fisheries too. Pair trawling, the practice of dragging a net along the bed between two trawlers, destroys the sea bed and continues despite official suspension in 2007.
Fishing at night using powerful lights to attract fish is destroying stocks of immature fish whilst cyanide is used to bring fish to the surface for netting, passing on a health hazard to humans.
These trends are having a devastating effect on livelihoods of artisanal fishermen. Lucas Kwabla, a fisherman in south eastern Ghana, says that ‘a disaster has occurred at our area here’. In 1999 he owned 5 boats providing employment for 100 fishermen and 50 fishmongers. Today he can only afford two boats and has made two thirds of his workforce redundant.
He wonders how fishermen will find the money to pay for their children’s education. Most fishermen know no other life. They have no education and will find it difficult to change professions.
Mr Kwabla says his forefathers made sacrifices to the sea gods who pushed fish towards their nets. With the spread of Christianity these practices have dwindled. He wonders if his generation is being punished by the gods they abandoned.