Sustainable governance of our fisheries sector crucial

BY: Daily Graphic

This week, Ghana hosted ministers of fisheries and aquaculture, and some senior officials of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Caribbean States to deliberate on how to improve sustainable fisheries governance in these geographical regions.

The participants exchanged views on scaling up the sustainable and inclusive fisheries and aquaculture value chain to transform food systems.

Hosting the conference was very important because of the strategic role the fishing industry plays in the economy and the nation at large.

Ghana’s fisheries sector consists of marine capture fisheries, inland fisheries and aquaculture. In addition to providing the much-needed animal protein, the fisheries sector creates jobs for 20 per cent of the active labour force (2.7 million people), including women who engage solely in processing and distribution.

The fishing industry, dominated by artisanal marine fishing, helps Ghana to meet its fish and protein requirements. Also, it provides employment for most coastal dwellers who depend on fishing as their main economic enterprise.

That notwithstanding, the industry is beset with several problems, including widespread illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. In addition, the unregulated management regimes that characterise much of the fisheries sector have resulted in a significant loss of economic rents and deteriorating socio-economic conditions of fisheries-dependent coastal communities.

The Daily Graphic believes that bad fishing practices and the general limited knowledge on sustainable management of fisheries resources are the limiting factors that affect sustainable fish production and sustainable marine biodiversity management in the country.

According to official data, catches from the trawlers constitute about six of total marine catches. However, these figures are likely to be an underestimation. First, the Fisheries Commission (FC) lacks the capacity to control actual catches: catch figures are based on self-reporting by the trawlers. According to the FC, these reports are not reliable.

Second, fish caught by trawlers and subsequently sold to canoe fishermen at sea (saiko) is not reported. By its own admission, the commission does not have sufficient resources to regulate fishing activities effectively, because it lacks both staff and information.

There are also weaknesses in the system for prosecution of offenders. When trawlers are caught violating regulations, the case may either be taken to court or transferred to the arbitration arrangement known as Alternative Dispute Resolution where settlements are made and violators fined. However, these settlements fail to deter offenders, probably because the fines are too low.

The aquaculture sector is facing several serious, imminent challenges. The most critical are the high costs of feed, which constitute over 80 per cent of production cost. The high cost of this locally produced feed is attributable to high import tariffs, taxes and other fees on inputs for production, coupled with the depreciation of the local currency.

For us at the Daily Graphic we know these challenges are surmountable. One of the solutions is to strengthen the registration and licensing regime of all fishing vessels in the country.

To resolve the issue of lack of reliable information on the fish catches in the country, we need to support the Commission with the necessary logistics and technical support to digitalise its data collection in both the inland and marine sectors of the industry.

We need to increase the level of involvement of local fishers in the management of fisheries resources of the country. That could help local fishers to employ sustainable fisheries resource exploitation methods that could result in an improvement in the economic development and wellbeing of affected fishing communities in particular and Ghana in general.

As a net importer of 40 per cent of the fish needed to feed its people, Ghana’s difficulties in sourcing high-quality, low-cost food protein will be exacerbated by population growth.

It is our fervent hope that the conference will not be remembered as a mere talk-shop where there were many promises and assurances that failed to be made good.