On Jamestown beach in Ghana’s capital, Accra, 38-year-old Ayele Okine, mother of six, grills fingerling fish, smoke billowing from her charcoal fire. She supports her six children alone, as her fisherman husband is serving a 10-year prison term for robbery.
He abandoned fishing for crime when it became unprofitable to go out to sea, she said.
“It was a very difficult time for him; he became very frustrated and depressed,” Okine told IRIN. “He started drinking a lot and would not come home for days. Then one day I was told that he had been arrested… Since he was convicted it has been very difficult for us.”
Okine’s husband is one of several thousand small-scale fishermen along the coast of Accra who have given up competing with the size and technological advantage of foreign industrial trawlers operating off-shore.
Ato Sartoh, chief fisherman at the Jamestown fishing community, told IRIN: “Many of my colleagues are turning to crime and other odd jobs because the government and its agencies have failed us.”
Some 1.8 million Ghanaians depend on the fishing industry as a livelihood source, according to the Agriculture Ministry.
On the verge of collapse
A June 2009 survey by Ghana’s Fisheries Department warned the fishing industry was on the verge of collapse, partly because of over-fishing by foreign trawlers.
Ghana imports 36 percent of its fish requirements at a cost of US$250 million a year, according to the National Inland Canoe Fishermen’s Council.
Industrial trawlers persist in carrying out “pair trawling”, which involves dragging a net between two boats and scooping up everything in its path, despite it being banned in the 2002 Fisheries Act, according to Ghana Fisheries Commission Chairman Mike Kwabena Akyeampong.
Fishermen say many trawlers also continue to operate illegally within the 12-nautical-mile zone which the act reserves for small vessels.
“They use these huge bright floodlights that attract the fish around the trawlers… They then catch everything, including fingerlings,” fisherman Sartoh told IRIN.
Ayele told IRIN her husband often used to complain about these trawlers. “He was bitter,” she said. “For me I blame the government which has failed to keep its promise to get rid of these big ships.”
Armed with cameras
Fisheries Commission chair Akyeampong told IRIN the government is aware of the scale of the problem but does not have the resources to tackle it alone.
The Commission, a wing of the Agriculture Ministry, is responsible for regulating and managing Ghana’s fishing industry.
“The only way to implement the relevant aspects of the law that benefits local, small-scale fishermen, but also most importantly prevents these foreign trawlers from employing illegal methods, is to have your eyes on the ocean,” he told IRIN.
“We will need enough patrol vessels, fully equipped for a round-the-clock motoring of all fishing activities. Unfortunately our government does not have that capacity,” Akyeampong continued.
So the commission is turning to local fishermen to help in the fight. The government will arm fishermen with cameras, recorders and basic training on intelligence gathering, so they can document trawlers operating illegally and report their findings to Ghanaian security agencies.
The initiative is starting to pay off: on 17 December local fishermen reported two illegal foreign vessels both of which went on to have their licenses suspended.
The Agriculture Ministry is also seeking an amendment of the fisheries law to impose harsher penalties for violations (current fines are between US$50,000 and US$1 million) and is trying to make it more difficult to get a fishing license. “We stand to lose all these benefits if we fail to act and act radically now,” Akyeampong told IRIN.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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