New Film Reveals Extent of Ghana’s Fishing Crisis
A new film has been released on the crisis in Ghana’s fisheries and the illegal practice of “saiko” – where industrial trawlers sell fish to local canoes at sea. This is driving the collapse of Ghana’s inshore fishery, on which millions of Ghanaians rely for food security and income.
Ghana’s fish stocks are in steep decline, with landings of key species for local consumption at their lowest recorded level since 1980. Traditional fishing communities have been hit hardest, with average annual income per canoe dropping by as much as 40 percent in the last 10 to 15 years.
The release of the film, Ghana: A Fishing Nation in Crisis was produced by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and Ghana-based NGO Hen Mpoano with funding from the E.U.-funded Far Dwuma Nkɔdo Project, and it's release was timed for the world’s first awareness day for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, June 5.
Steve Trent, EJF’s executive director, says: “The implications of the imminent collapse of Ghana’s small pelagic fishery cannot be overstated. Over two million people in Ghana rely on fisheries for their livelihoods, with limited alternative sources of income or employment. Should the resource disappear, mass migration and social upheaval can be considered a very real prospect.”
The film will premiere on Ghanaian TV, and after the screening, a panel, including academics and representatives from the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council and the Fisheries Commission, will discuss the urgent need to protect Ghana’s fish stocks.
Ghana’s fishing industry has been plagued by illegal activities in recent years. Destructive fishing practices and over-exploitation by industrial trawlers have driven local fishers facing plummeting incomes to turn to illegal fishing with light, dynamite, and chemicals. These are quick fixes for fishers in a desperate situation that are causing irreparable damage to remaining fish stocks and, in some cases, risking human health.
One practice, referred to locally as saiko, is precipitating an ecological and human catastrophe, says EJF. Originally an informal trading system, where unwanted industrial bycatch would be exchanged at sea for fruit and livestock brought by canoes, it is increasingly a part of targeted fishing for the trawlers. This puts industrial fishing vessels in direct competition with small-scale fishers for catches of species such as sardinella that are a staple food for local communities. Having effectively “stolen” fish from canoe fishers, saiko operators sell these back to the same fishing communities for profit.
Saiko is a highly organized and lucrative practice, accounting for an estimated 100,000 tons of illegal and unreported catches in 2017, with an estimated landed value of $34-65 million. The statistics reveal the stark inequality of this trade: an average saiko canoe can return with as much 400 times the amount of fish as a canoe fishing trip.
It is not too late to save Ghana’s fisheries. Saiko remains illegal in the country, and robust enforcement of this law could effect real change. Kofi Agbogah, director of Hen Mpoano, says: “Transhipments of fish at sea are notoriously difficult to monitor, even with the most advanced systems in place. Instead, all catches should be landed in authorized ports and recorded in official statistics to inform sustainable management. This would also ensure that restrictions on fishing gear that prevent the capture of non-target species are complied with.”
Nana Solomon from the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council, says “The voices of small-scale fishers and fishmongers must be heard when it comes to designing Ghana’s fisheries management, to help create policies that are fair and sustainable.”