The Deputy Director in charge of Oil and Gas at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ghana, Mr Kojo Agbenor- Efunam, has said oil exploration has not deprived fishermen of their livelihoods as was largely speculated.
Instead, he said, the fisherfolks preferred to carry out their fishing activities close to the installations used in oil production, something the regulatory agencies did not allow.
In an interview in Accra, Mr Agbenor- Efunam said the restrictions given to the seafaring community, including the fishermen, were part of an international convention and not peculiar to Ghana, but the local fisherfolks would need some time to get used to it.
“In terms of restrictions, that is, coming close to the installations, it is not so much of a Ghanaian law but an international law. It is known as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas and that gives the framework within which they can operate,” he said.
He added, “So whether it is an installation or a vessel, you have to maintain the distance. The safety exclusion zone is about 500 metres from the installation, we expect our fisherfolks to get used to some of the restrictions over time.”
Livelihood not deprived
Fishermen in the coastal communities where oil exploration takes place have attributed their dwindling fortunes to oil exploration.
This is because they are not able to fish close to the installations, which often attracts the fishes due to the presence of lights. In sharp contrast, Mr
Agbenor- Efunam said their livelihood has not been deprived as there were fishing grounds available to them to fish.
“Oil has not deprived them of their livelihoods because they have other places they can fish. The fishes only aggregate around the installations at night because of the light. It is just that they want to go near the installations to fish and there are restrictions,” he said.
According to him, Ghana was not the only country experiencing the challenge associated with oil production and its impact on fisheries as other oil producing countries were going through a similar feat.
“Even in an advanced country such as Norway, with over 40 years of experience, is still having issues with its fishermen. It is the same place we are all getting our resources from, the fisheries resources are in the water, the oil resources are also below the soil surface,” he said.
Alternative livelihoods and new FPSO
The concept of alternative livelihood for fisherfolks remains a concern for most stakeholders in the oil and gas sector in the country, especially with the arrival of the second Floating Production Storage Offloading vessel christened FPSO Professor John Evans Atta Mills to be used for the Tweneboa Enyera Ntomme (TEN) oil fields.
Prior to the arrival of the vessel, the Ghana Maritime Authority, issued a navigational warning notice to the seafaring community to maintain a safe distance of five nautical miles vectored from the centre position of the FPSO.
This is because the installation and drilling work on the FPSO, involves the use of heavy equipment that pose danger to mariners, while additional risk include the collisions and the danger posed by the use of open fires by mariners in close proximity to the oil and gas installation.
The second FPSO, is expected to further limit the fishermen as to where they can fish and the guarantee of getting bumper catch is in limbo because the fishes will be still attracted to the lights on the vessel.
Mr Agbenor- Efunam said there was no cause for alarm as the restricted area was minute compared to the areas available to the fishermen to carry out their activities.
“The idea of alternative livelihood for the fishermen was created not because of oil but because the fish stock in Ghana has dwindled so much. If the number of people fishing keeps going up then there must be a way of taking people out of the fishing industry, so we don’t put so much pressure on the fish stock,” he said.