Unscrupulous “Saiko” fishing worsens Ghana’s marine ecosystems

BY: Albert Fiatui and Bismark Ameyaw
Rising illegal fishing is depleting fish stock in the country's marine sub-sector
Rising illegal fishing is depleting fish stock in the country's marine sub-sector

Illegal fishing is considered globally as a fundamental driver of overfishing threatening marine ecosystems. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing puts food security and regional stability at risk.

On a broader perspective, West Africa’s IUU accounts for approximately 40 per cent of fish caught. This estimated percentage is considered the highest worldwide. With such a catastrophe hitting the coast of West Africa, some IUU vessels still fish directly off the coast.  

Most often, IUU fishing focuses on high-value dimensional species “Saiko” like cod, salmon, trout, lobster, and prawns among others. These high-value dimensional species are mostly subject to restrictions from fisheries management purposes.

The economic catch here is that these fish species are traded in small quantities with high demand, thereby making IUU fishing a lucrative business for IUU fishermen.

IUU fishing on a fisherman perspective is deemed highly attractive because no taxes or duties are paid on the fish caught. The lucrative nature of IUU fishing is due to the absence of effective fisheries control structures.

Ghana’s fisheries sector
The fisheries sector of Ghana is beset with overfishing with a dramatic depletion of fish stocks in our oceans. Illegal fishing by foreign trawlers is decimating Ghana's fish population by causing the country millions of dollars in revenue.

A 2018 report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) indicated that foreign interest was known to be extensive within Ghana's trawl fleet. This foreign interest particularly from China is harming Ghana's fish stocks and local economies.

In Ghana, there are over 80 industrial trawlers operating. These trawlers are not only competing with the estimated 12,000 artisanal canoes supporting the livelihood of approximately three million Ghanaians. Such overfishing, which is the combination of both the trawlers and artisanal canoe fishing pose a detrimental effect on marine ecosystems.

With such a looming rippling effect, high-value dimensional fish species are not left to replenish for sustainable marine ecosystems. Against this backdrop, the Centre for International Maritime Affairs Ghana (CIMAG) argues that the existence of IUU in our coastal areas does not only threaten the collapse of small-scale fisheries, but also affects the source of living of people engaged in small-scale fisheries.

The challenge with IUU fishing in Ghana is exacerbated because small fishing vessels load their catch onto reefers while at sea. During this transhipment, fishermen on board are also supplied with food or fuel to enable them to remain at sea for months. The transhipment of Ghana's pelagic fisheries put fish stocks under severe pressure.

Saiko fishing
Based on the aforementioned challenges of “Saiko” fishing, CIMAG asserts that combating IUU fishing is very complex and expensive. Taking a clue from affluent countries, there exists the enforcement of stringent ocean control systems by deploying large fleets of vessels and trained personnel to minimise IUU fishing to an appreciable level.

The European Union (EU)-enforced IUU directives (since 2008) contains uniform directives for all EU ports to curb IUU fishing. The EU directives have rendered IUU vessels unable to land their catches in the EU ports.

Irrespective of the EU directives on IUU fishing, research postulates that there are still ports in other EU regions where IUU fishermen land their illegally caught fish with absolutely zero repercussions.

Stringent measures
Due to the complexities in combating IUU fishing even for the more affluent countries, putting in stringent measures does not only help minimise IUU fishing at our ports, rather it helps save the livelihood of people engaged in small-scale fisheries.

To tackle IUU fishing in a less costly manner, there should be rigorous checks at our ports. However, the rigorous checks will be very effective if all ports cooperate with IUU fishing directives.

Additionally, there should be inter-coastal fisheries regulatory frameworks that give guidance on protecting "Saiko” fishing in our coastal areas. Furthermore, there should be scrutiny of the ownership arrangements of all foreign industrial trawl vessels operating to ensure its compliance with set                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       up laws and regulations.   

Finally, the closed fishing season commitment in the National Fisheries Management Plan should be enforced yearly to help minimise IUU fishing.