Fresh fish ooooo! Fresh fish oooo!! Fresh fishooo!!! This were the shouts from fresh fish sellers mostly women from Teshie (eeegmooo, eegmooo, eeegmoo, they shout it in the Ga Language) that greeted residents of La and its environs in the Greater Accra Region where I grew up at.
These shouts, which are heard at least every 10 minutes from the fish sellers from sunrise through late afternoon were pleasant to the ears as they meant there was abundance of fish in the system especially between July and early September.
During this period in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, fresh fish appeared in the coastal communities like the biblical manna falling from the skies for the Israelites as people look forward to buying pans full of fish for some few coins.
In those days, both the elderly, young, employed and unemployed can buy fish without much sweat, they smoked, cooked and fried to their taste. While some preferred consuming their own, with gari soaked with the cooked fish stock, others went for well-prepared Gakenkey and banku. And oh I almost forgot, fresh fish was never consumed without hot red or kpakposhito (green pepper) accompanying it.
Fisher folks and residents in coastal areas in the Greater Accra region could bet their last pesewa that the change in the weather from hot to cold meant abundance of different species of sardinella (what Ghanaians refer to as herrings, according to some fishermen we do not have herrings in Ghanaian waters) and mackerel popularly known as salmon among Ghanaians.
For some years now, as fishermen continuously complain about less catch, fish sellers and consumers also have to spend more to purchase.
Several media reports over the years indicate that for about 15 years now the fish catch was gradually going down, a situation experts claim would spell doom for the sector if not checked.
These fishermen observed that after several hours at sea, they come back with very low catch thus making less profit as they burn premix fuel without anything good to show.
Apart from not getting the bumper catch they expected in August, they are losing out on some species they used to catch as they are no longer available.
ILLEGAL FISHING ACTIVITES
Dwindling fish stock in Ghana’s water has been largely attributed to illegal fishing activities which include use of explosives, chemicals, undersized fishing nets, use of light, bamboo and other fish aggregating devices.
Recently, Mrs Elizabeth Naa Afoley Quaye, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MOFAD), condemned the reckless exploitation and depletion of the fishery resources of Ghana which, she said would lead to the total collapse of fisheries sector, with serious economic, social, nutritional and food security consequences that the country would not be able to accommodate.
“If unregulated and illegal fishing practices such as the indiscriminate and illegal fishing practices such as the indiscriminate use of explosives, chemicals, under-sized mesh nets, light, bamboo and other fish aggregating devices to fish were not stopped, the fisheries sector would collapse”, she said during a stakeholders’ meeting in Accra.
To curb such illegalities in the sector, several measures were put in place including educating the fishermen on the effects of their activities. Introduction of a taskforce made up of fisher folks was also formulated to correct the issue.
During the inauguration of the Fisheries Watch Volunteers Taskforce in May 2017, at Otrokpe in the Dangme East District, in the Greater Accra region, some fisher folks who had a misconception about the mandate of the taskforce members stormed the inauguration grounds and disrupted the programme by pulling down erected canopies, and throwing away plastic chairs occupied by invited guests. There were other protestations against the formation of the taskforce in other fishing communities in the country.
This was followed by an attack on members of the Fisheries Volunteer Taskforce on Prampram waters in June, 2017. The attacking group from Akplabanya and its environs in the Ada West Municipality numbering about 15 and fully armed with guns, machetes, bows and arrows and other materials, allegedly shot at the unarmed task force members.
GAINS FROM FIGHT AGAINST ILLEGAL FISHING
Despite these challenges in fighting illegal fishing activities in our waters, the crackdown on it by the Fisheries Commission and the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MFAD) has yielded a total of GH¢13,665,503.
The amount accrued from fines imposed on 100 fishermen prosecuted out of over 200 perpetrators arrested under the implementation of the West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme (WARFP).
Mr Michael Dawutey, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme, Ghana, disclosed this to the Ghana News Agency in Tema. According to him, GH¢6,438.023 out of the figure had been paid into the Fisheries Development Fund.
Mr Dawutey added that 3,000 monofilaments nets, 600 generators and light accessories as well as 120,000 metric tonnes of fish were also confiscated.
The 53 million US Dollar WARFP commenced in 2012 in Ghana with the aim of improving the sustainable management of the country’s fish and aquaculture resources, and reducing of illegal fishing.
CLOSE FISHING SEASON
Another measure to replenish Ghana’s fish stock was the introduction of fishing bans by the Fisheries Commission and the MOFAD. Industrial and tuna trawlers observed the close fishing season in November 2016, January and February 2017, as well as January and February 2018.
The Ghana Industrial Trawlers Association (GITA) and other fishing stakeholders called for the extension of the fishing ban to cover artisan fishing as according to them having a close season for only vessels would not yield the needed result.
One such stakeholder, Mr Richster Nii Armah Amarfio, a Fisheries Advocate, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency said until the season closure was extended to artisan fishing which accounts for about 64 per cent of the country’s fishing, the purpose of the closure would not be met.
He noted that trawlers only form 18 per cent of the country’s fishing activities therefore having a season closure for them alone was not a good conservative measure to manage the fishing stock of Ghana, explaining that whereas trawlers had licenses to do bottom trawling which target species such as demoiselles, red snappers, and their likes, artisan fishermen could fish for any species and do not even need license to operate.
According him, a research in Ghana’s waters by the Dr. Nansen Norwegian Research Vessel, indicated clearly that the country had not overfished its demoiselles stock and that there was an appreciable stock level of carringes, horse mackerel and its family which he said are mid-water fishes.
Mr Amarfio, who is also a fisherman, added however that the research noted that sardine as stock were heavily threatened therefore the need for a season closure for that stock which is mostly fished by artisan fishers.
He questioned what the benefit would be for the country if the closing season was for trawlers alone while the over 12,000 canoes have the freedom to fish all year round for the affected species.
He added that it was unfortunate that whereas in Gambia, fishermen were not allowed to fish some metres from the shoreline because that is where the fishes deliver their offspring, in Ghana artisan fishermen could fish anywhere with any net size leading to the fishing of juvenile fishes.
Mr Oyeman Ofori-Ani, Board Secretary of GITA on his part called on the Fisheries Commission and the MOFAD to acquire a fishing research vessel to help obtain data on the country’s fishing activities, indicating that without a research vessel, it would be difficult for the Ministry and the Commission to assess the impact and benefits of the observing of the close season.
He explained that with the availability of a research vessel, the Commission could gather data on the country’s fish stock before a close season begins, and just before the ban is lifted.
This, he noted would help the Ministry and government to put in appropriate measures that could replenish the dwindling stock as a comparison of the data before and after would be obtained scientifically as that was the only way to have a sustainable fishing sector.
To fully derive the benefits of the close season, the Ministry announced its intended ban for artisanal vessels to commence on August 7 and end on September 4, 2018.
The announcement was greeted with mixed feeling as some supported the intended ban while other vehemently protested against it citing short notice from the Ministry.
After several back and forth gestures from stakeholders including the traditional leaders of the Greater Accra region who questioned the rationale for the ban period as that was when they needed fish to celebrate the Homowo festival, Mrs Quaye announced the postponement of the ban to 2019 by Cabinet.
The announcement was greeted with some joy from the fisher folks and traditional leaders with Nii Adjei Kraku II, Paramount Chief of Tema commending the government for listening to the voice of the people.
After the postponement, fishermen are still complaining of less catch and low income to pay their children’s school fees come September. The question was the decision to postpone the ban right and the solution to the dwindling stock? I believe that if the only solution to replenishing the stock was through the ban, it should have been carried through and alternative income making ventures provided for fisher folks.
What would happen when MOFAD and the Fisheries Commission decide to introduce another ban for industrial trawlers before August 2019? Would they happily and willingly oblige or they would follow the footsteps of the artisanal vessels and protest.
By Laudia Nunoo Sawer