Protecting fisheries resources through community co-management systems

BY: Zadok Kwame Gyesi

Fisheries and aquaculture are a source of health, wealth, nutritional security and jobs for African countries and Ghana is no exception.

Fish is one of the most widely traded food products in Ghana. This is because Ghana is one of the key fishing destinations in West Africa and Africa as a whole.

The fisheries sector in Ghana provides livelihoods for an estimated 10 per cent of the country’s population who are directly or indirectly employed within the fisheries and aquaculture value chain.

Fish also constitutes an important source of animal protein in the diet of Ghanaians by providing 60 per cent of the animal protein consumed in the country. Ghana’s fish consumption is far above FAO estimates of 22 per cent in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, both marine and inland fishery resources are increasingly showing signs of overexploitation, resulting in declines in fish landings. The decline, which is leading to a widening gap between the fish demand and supply, is attributable to a number of factors, including excess capacity and open access to the fisheries resources, particularly in the semi- industrial and artisanal sectors of the industry.

The decline in the fish stocks is not only a worrying situation to the players in the industry but also to the government. The government over the years has been finding best ways to manage the country’s fisheries resources. However, many of the interventions have either failed or yielded little results.

Many have blamed the failure of the government’s interventions in managing the country’s fisheries resources to the lack of involvement of the key stakeholders in the industry such as the communities and the fishermen in the management strategies of the fisheries resources.

Fishermen

Ebusuapanyin Kobina Beenya, is a fisherman in Cape Coast. For him, lack of involvement of fishermen in decision making regarding the regulation of the country’s seas and fisheries resources had been a major concern for fishermen for many years.

He said fishermen had been fighting the government over the years to involve them in the decision making process, concerning the fisheries sector, saying “This is what we have been fighting for over the years. We are a key stakeholder but we are often neglected when it comes to making laws to regulate the sea.”

For him, fishermen had been having meetings with the fisheries regulators, particularly the Fisheries Commission, but their views are always not taken and respected.

Other fishermen such as Amoakoh, and Kwesi Abban, sided with Ebusuapanyin Kobina Beenya’s views.

In addressing the gap between regulators and players, in terms of ensuring that everyone’s view is considered in the management of the country’s fisheries resources, Ghana in November 2020, introduced its first co-management policy, detailing the roles and responsibilities of all key stakeholders in the industry.

Co-management

Co-management, also known as collaborative management, is a strategy for managing fisheries resources where responsibility for decision making on how the resources will be managed sustainably is shared between government, resource users and other stakeholders.

Fisheries co-management has been identified as one of the best contemporary approaches to addressing the challenges of open access to natural resources, in an effort to attaining sustainable management of the fisheries resources.

Fisheries co-management is approach to managing a defined fishery or fish stocks in a defined management area by management groups where authority for how fish can be harvested, who can fish, and how much fish is harvested is vested in the management groups, and where decision making is shared among government authorities such as the Fisheries Commission and representatives of fisheries stakeholders. In simple terms, everyone on the value chain in the fisheries sector— harvesters, fisheries processors, marketers and relevant civil society organisations with an interest in the fishery sector are all part when it comes to the decision-making process.

The overall purpose of Ghana’s co-management policy is to ensure voluntary compliance with fisheries laws aimed at sustainably managing the country’s fisheries resources. The policy is designed to: (1) provide a framework for consultative stakeholder engagement and decision making with respect to defining strategic measures for rejuvenating the fisheries sector with active participation and defined roles for all stakeholders. For instance, shared roles and responsibilities for management and enforcement; (2) promote voluntary compliance with management regulations, standards and interventions by fishers; (3) establish and empower stakeholder-led institutions that facilitate sustainable fisheries management for clearly defined management units; (4) facilitate mobilization of resources for co-management interventions, (5) develop effective local rules by combining local knowledge with scientific and technical knowledge of government agencies.

More specifically, the objectives of the policy are to: (1) develop the modalities and institutional framework to delegate governance and management authority and responsibility to resource users; (2) create and develop capacities of co-management units to empower the units to develop and implement management plans and enforce national fisheries laws; (3) develop linkages among local stakeholders for enhanced co-management and learning at all levels, and (4) increase adherence to fisheries laws and regulations.

Players speak

The Coordinating Secretary of National Fisheries Association of Ghana (NAFAG), Mr Daniel Yaw Owusu, is of the view that the co-management policy is an improved version of the Community Fisheries Management Committee, a similar policy that was implemented in Ghana in the late 1990s.

Even though he believes the new co-management policy has some of the best strategies, it can only succeed if all stakeholders adhered to its tenets.

“This document can succeed if only the managers and the regulators turn away from top-management attitude” he said.

He added, “They should always, first and foremost, engage us and not only engage us but take on board our issues even if they disagree with us, they should let us know where they disagree so that whatever decision is arrived at is co-owned by all of us.”

Mr Owusu said an effective implementation of the policy would help to dramatically bring down the practice of IUU fishing in the country’s waters and sustainably manage the country’s fisheries resources since fishers are co-owners of everything in the policy.

For him, since the Fisheries Commission and the Fisheries Ministry did not have the resources to effectively and efficiently police the country’s seas and preventing Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, the best approach was for them to ensure that the co-management policy worked to promote voluntary compliance.

Contributing to the issue, the Fisheries Programmes Manager of Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a UK-based non-governmental organisation working in the fisheries sector in Ghana, Socrates Segbor, said the implementation of the fisheries co-management policy is the way forward as it provides the needed structure for inclusivity for players to come to the table, discuss and agree on measures to sustainably manage the fisheries.

For him, the bottom-up approach management system which had been used over the years to management the country’s fisheries resources had not helped in many ways, particularly on clamping down on IUU fishing.

Even though he thinks the implementation of the co-management policy will help to address a number of challenges facing the sustainable management of the country’s fisheries resources, he was skeptical that the fisheries co-management policy could face a difficulty in its implementation if funds are not made available for it.

“The issue is funding co-management structures are not cheap; they are expensive and painfully slow but they are sustainable,” he noted, asking “Is government ready to invest into it?”

For Mr Segbor, although civil society organisations (CSO) would be willing to support aspects of policy implementation for some period of time, they will not always be there to fund it and that is where government needed to find innovative ways of funding the implementation of the policy with the support of CSOs.

He suggested that the Fisheries Commission could channel part of its Fisheries Development Fund towards the implementation of the co-management policy, pointing out that CSOs can support the implementation of the policy by helping in setting up of the co-management structures.

He has, therefore, implored the government to increase the budgetary allocation to the Fisheries Commission.

The Office Manager of the Ghana Industrial Trawlers Association (GITA), Mr Gilbert Sam, also thinks that although the co-management policy may be gathering some buzz, it is not new in the management of the country’s fisheries resources.

“The co-management policy is not something new. It has been with us for a longtime,” he noted, saying that it will be wrong on the part of regulators to after the introduction of the policy still act contrary to the aims and objectives of the policy.

He pointed out that if key stakeholders such as owners of fleets are not consulted in the management of the fisheries resources, it will not help to achieve that purpose of the policy.

For Mr Sam, the Fisheries Commission should not be only interested in arresting fisheries offenders and prosecuting them, but should be interested in achieving high voluntary compliance of fisheries laws, further noting that fisheries co-management policy will reduce “reduce acrimony, potential conflict and all forms of mistrust” when effectively implemented, as it will bring all the key stakeholders on one path.

At long last

For Ebusuapanyin Kobina Beenya, the implementation of the fisheries co-management policy is what fishers have been waiting for over the years, praying that regulators will not abandon the policy and “do their own thing.”

He wants the government to quickly start the implementation of the policy by setting up committees at the various fishing sites across the country, noting that through the committees, the fishermen can make their views known to the regulators.

“Our major concern is that although the policy is a good one, we are uncertain as to whether government will work with our contributions or not,” he said, adding

“When they (fisheries regulators) come and we tell them our concerns, they just write them but they don’t work with them.”
Nana Kofi Krah is also a fisherman at Cape Coast and shares similar sentiments with other fishermen concerning their views being neglected or ignored by fisheries regulators.

“It will be good if government consult us first before certain decisions concerning the sustainable management of our seas and fisheries are taken; we have to be part of the decision-making process so that we can feel part of its implementation,” he suggested.

For him, it was unacceptable that fisheries regulators will make laws without the inputs of key stakeholders such as the fishermen, saying “We are fishermen and our work depends directly on the sea so anything affecting the fisheries resources affect us.”

Regulators

Although many industry players have expressed varied opinions about the policy and its implementation, the Fisheries Commission, the agency with the mandate to regulate the country’s fisheries sector, is optimistic that the co-management policy will be effectively implemented.

Mr Michael Arthur-Dadzie, Director of the Fisheries Commission is of the conviction that of the policy implementation rests on the fact that regulation and management of the fisheries resources does not reside only with the regulators but with the players as well.

He says the fisheries co-management policy “Will afford us the opportunity on how best we can all come together to solve our fisheries problem and save the industry.”

For him, the policy will help to fashion out effective an regime to see to the management of the country’s fisheries resources, indicating that previous fisheries management policies did not work because those policies only looked at the management of the fisheries resources from the regulators’ point of view.

Mr Arthur-Dadzie explained that the co-management policy was piloted at the River Pra, Densu and Ankobra estuaries through a partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP). The communities in the pilot areas continue to manage the fisheries of the estuary, even after the support by SFMP had come to an end.

According to him, the piloting of the policy has chalked some successes and that based on those successes, “We have initiated some activities to pilot the policy at the inland waters in Ashanti and Volta regions.”

He said the piloting will last for at least six months before full implementation, noting that through the piloting, they will identify the problems and implement the successes.’

According to him, the Commission had finished its needs assessment for the inland waters piloting of the fisheries co-management policy.