Ghana’s fishing industry has been in dire straits in the last 10-15 years as fishermen keep recording low catch. Landings of key species for local consumption is at their lowest recorded level since 1980. Traditional fishing communities’ income has been hit hardest with an average annual income per canoe dropping by as much as 40% in the last 10-15 years.

Various reasons are being attributable to the unnerving phenomena in the fishing sector and it is in a bid to nip the in the bud that the various chief fishermen and queen mothers in the over 40 landing beaches in Central Region have decided to take the bull by its horn and below is the full details of the 10 point communiqué on how to salvage the declining fisheries sector form the perspectives of fishers in the Central Region.

STATEMENT: Ghana’s small-scale fishers, fish traders and processors came together this week to present ten key points they feel should be included in the country’s fisheries law reforms. They call for stricter penalties for fishing with light, chemicals and explosives; mitigation of impacts from offshore oil development; and an end to the damaging illegal practice known as ‘saiko’.

Ghana’s fishing communities are becoming increasingly vulnerable as the fisheries crisis deepens. The average annual income per traditional fishing canoe has dropped by as much as 40% in the last 10 to 15 years, and landings of small pelagic fish – key for local consumption – are at their lowest recorded level since 1980.

As part of the current review of the national fisheries law framework, small-scale fishers, fish traders and processors from the Central Region – represented by the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council (GNCFC) and the National Fish Processors and Traders Association (NAFPTA) – this week presented a ten-point communiqué to the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development.

The communiqué provides a number of recommendations to address the crisis in Ghana’s fisheries, such as stricter penalties for fishing with light, chemicals and explosives, and empowering communities to be able to enforce the law at a local level.

It also emphasizes the need to end the illegal practice of saiko – where trawlers increasingly target fish meant for small-scale fishers, and transfer them to canoes out at sea for onward sale to local markets. The fisherfolk strongly recommend that the current law prohibiting saiko be upheld and strictly enforced, along with gear restrictions to prevent trawlers from targeting juvenile fish and species meant for canoe fishermen.

Illegal fishing and over-capacity of the industrial trawl fleet are major factors driving small-scale fishers to use prohibited fishing methods. Measures recommended in the communiqué – such as lengthening the closed season for trawlers and reducing vessel numbers – would not only give fish stocks a chance to recover, they would also give small-scale fishers an incentive to ensure their own methods are legal and sustainable. Expanding the inshore exclusion zone reserved for canoe fishers would also reflect today’s reality where fishers travel further out to sea in search of fish because of declining stocks.

Protection of informal yet legitimate rights of access to fisheries is also highlighted in the communiqué. Small-scale fishers in Ghana face loss of access to traditional fishing grounds and landing sites as a result of encroachment from other users and offshore oil development. The law should ensure mandatory consultation with fishing communities on such developments, the communiqué urges, and compensation must be provided for negative impacts. Similarly, when conflicts arise at sea, compensation for damage to fishing gear caused by industrial vessels must also be made more accessible to small-scale fishers.

Nana Obrenu Dabum III, Chairman of GNCFC for Central Region, said: “Fishing communities must be involved in fisheries decision making. Not only will this improve the equity and sustainability of the policies, if canoe fishers feel they own the law, and have contributed to it, they will be more likely to comply themselves.