Reports warn Ghana fisheries sector at risk of collapse

Published on
June 17, 2019

A report capturing the extent and worth of illegal fishing by foreign owned industrial vessels in Ghana’s coastline is set to be launched to the international on 17 June, at a time when various international organizations warn the West African country risks a collapse of its fishing industry.

The report, which is based on investigations by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) in partnership with Ghanaian non-governmental organization Hen Mpoano, indicates illegal fish trans-shipments in Ghana, where industrial trawlers transfer frozen fish to specially adapted canoes out at sea – dubbed “saiko” in the local language – is costing the Ghanaian economy around USD 50 million (EUR 44.6 million) a year.

“Saiko is precipitating the collapse of Ghana’s staple fish stock and with it poverty and hunger for its people,” EJF’s Executive Director Steve Trent said.

Saiko catches in 2017 were worth USD 40.6 million to USD 50.7 million (EUR 36.2 million to EUR 45.2 million) when sold at sea, and USD 52.7 million to USD 81.1 million (EUR 47 million to EUR 72.4 million) when sold at the landing site, the report said. 

According to the report, Chinese trawlers “are making millions of dollars in an illegal trade which makes up over a half of the fish caught by industrial boats in Ghana.”

Although Ghana has legislation that forbids foreign ownership or control of industrial trawl vessels flying Ghana’s flag, the report said Chinese trawler operators are using Ghanaian proxy companies to circumvent this law and “hooking up vast quantities of small pelagic fish such as sardinella, which is the main catch of local canoe fishers and crucial part of the Ghanaian diet.”

Moreover, China continues to deliver new trawler fishing vessels to Ghana despite the February 2012 moratorium on new industrial trawlers entering Ghanaian waters, according to the EJF report.

“Of the 68 industrial trawl vessels licensed to fish in Ghana from March-June 2018, at least half were built in 2013 or later, after the moratorium on new or replacement vessels came into effect,” EJF said.

Ghana has by law restricted the operations of the industrial trawlers to waters depths of more than 30 meters, although government reports indicate some of the deep-sea vessels have been violating the regulation. 

In 2018, the report by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture reported 42 vessels were involved in various violations are were arrested and operators prosecuted.

Elsewhere, in March 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its own warning about illegal fishing depleting Ghana’s resources.

“Ghana’s overexploited marine stocks will continue to limit domestic seafood production, while population and economic growth push consumption upwards,” its report said. “The industrial fleet in particular is the subject of criticism as a primary culprit in illegal fishing and trading practices.”

Illegal fishing in Ghana, USDA added “increases the likelihood that the actual marine catch in Ghanaian waters is higher than indicated in available statistics.” 

“The small pelagic fish species from marine sources fluctuate, and are generally on the decline or the verge of total collapse due to over fishing,” the report said. “The joint ventures upon which most industrial trawlers operate (in order to comply with domestic ownership laws) appear to be problematic, with reports of industrial vessels engaging in illegal fishing and trading practices.”

Ghana, which imported USD 311 million (EUR 277.4 million) of seafood and fish products in 2018, an equivalent of 48 percent of its total demand, which is driven by the large share of fish in the protein consumed in the country, at 60 percent and dependence on the fish for up to 22 percent of the household expenditures, according to USDA.

Photo courtesy of Environmental Justice Foundation

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