Towards the lifting of Ghana’s Yellow Card: New measures scare offenders
Ghana remains a major fishing destination in sub-Saharan Africa and Africa as a whole. Available statistics indicates that there are more than two million people employed directly and indirectly in the fisheries value-chain in the country.
But Ghana is also on records as one of the destinations for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices in the West African sub-region.
Light fishing, dynamite fishing, use of small mesh-sized nets, saiko (illegal transshipment) fishing, fishing in prohibited areas, e.g. trawlers fishing in the Inshore exclusive zone (IEZ) or semi-industrial vessels using trawl gear in the IEZ and use of fish aggregating device (FADs) are all forms of IUU fishing. In effect, most fishing crafts - canoes, semi-industrial and industrial vessels are engaged in one form of IUU fishing or the other.
The IUU fishing practices threaten the sustainability of the fisheries sector of Ghana and has the potential of impacting negatively the lives and livelihoods of over two million people who depend on the fisheries sector should the sector unfortunately collapse.
Many experts and advocates continue to warn regulators and industry players to adopt management measures that will avert a possible collapse of the fisheries sector. Sound governance and conservation practices are key to protecting and sustaining the fisheries sector.
Although various stakeholders have worked tirelessly over the years to reduce many of these IUU fishing practices in Ghana, the country is not totally out of the woods—IUU fishing still remains a thorn in the flesh.
For instance, a study titled: “Stolen at sea” published by Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and its partners on the Ghanaian fisheries sector indicated that approximately 100,000 metric tonnes of illegally caught fish were landed through saiko in 2017.
The report indicated that: “estimated the value of saiko fish sold at sea was between US$ 40.6 and US$ 50.7 million, and between US$ 52.7 and US$ 81.1 million when sold at the landing site.” The Government of Ghana did not derive any rent from these sales of saiko fish and this constituted a huge revenue loss to the state.
According to the report noted that saiko fishing had become a “very low risk and highly profitable illegal business’’ and arrests and adjudication and sanctions were less than optimal and “Cases were generally settled through unclear out of court settlement processes and fines were not paid as prescribed in law
In June, 2021, Ghana was issued with a Yellow Card by the European Union (EU) due to the observed widespread IUU fishing practices in the country. This is because Ghana was identified by the EU as a non-cooperating third party state in fighting IUU fishing.
Following the widespread IUU fishing practices in the country, ineffective implementation of the management instruments developed, including weak enforcement of the revised laws led again to the prevalence of illegal fishing activities.
Ghana first received a Yellow Card in 2013 and was lifted in 2015 when the country introduced some reforms in its fisheries sector to tackle the menace.
However, the country lapsed on its management and regulatory efforts, hence attracting the second yellow card in 2021.
The country was also cited of having an expired National Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU (NPOA-IUU)-2014-2018; deficiencies in the monitoring, control and surveillance of the fleet; as well as lack of deterrent sanctions imposed on vessels engaging in or supporting IUU fishing activities on Ghanaian waters.
Professor Wisdom Akpalu, a natural resource economist believes that Ghana’s second yellow card was self-inflicted since the country could have easily avoided the card by simply complying with sustainable fisheries management measures as contained in the Ghanaian Fisheries Act (Act 2002).
For him, the signs were clear that the country was heading to a ditch in its fisheries management, considering the spike in IUU fishing practices across all fishing fleets.
Prof. Akpalu, who is also the Dean of the School of Research and Graduate Studies (SRGS) at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), noted that ‘’it is sad that in spite of the many calls and cautions to the managers for improving management of the fisheries sector, they failed to do so’’ but was however, hopeful that Ghana could easily come out of the yellow card should the country allow its fisheries laws to work..
He urged the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development and Fisheries Commission to intensify their regulatory and management efforts and amend parts of the Act to ensure that new developments in the sector are all well-captured.
The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD), Mavis Hawa Koomson, in an interview, said the Ministry was poised to weed out all forms of IUU fishing on Ghanaian waters.
She the Ministry had identified fishing gears as one of the major contributors to IUU fishing, particularly in the industrial sector and that the Ministry was working assiduously to resolve that.
That, she explained, fishing vessels that did not meet the required fishing gear directive by the Ministry would not be allowed to fish on Ghanaian waters.
The fishing gear directive has affected many vessels. Currently, out of the 76 fishing vessels in Ghana, only 41 are fishing. The remaining 35 vessels are yet to be cleared to go fishing due to non-compliance with the new fishing gear regime by the Ministry.
The new fisheries gear directive forbids any vessel with unauthorised fishing gear (fishing nets) to fish on Ghanaian waters.
Madam. Hawa Koomson explained that the lack of proper fishing nets was a major contributor to the illegal harvest of non-target fish species by the industrial trawlers in Ghana.
The Minister averred that the Ministry together with its agencies, particularly the Fisheries Commission have started an inspection exercise of fishing gears at the two major landing ports (Sekondi-Takoradi & Tema), to ensure that all fishing trawlers have the right type of gears and the Ministry will not relent on its efforts to flush out all non-complying fishing vessels.
Madam Hawa Koomson cautioned that the Ministry would not hesitate to hand hefty punishments as prescribed in the fisheries laws to any non-complying fishing vessels on the country’s waters.
For her, IUU fishing was denying Ghana of its expected revenues as well as contributing to the depletion of the country’s fish stocks.
“We have given them very specific gears designs that they should use,” she indicated, adding that “We do inspection before their departure and when they come, we also go to inspect what they brought.”
The Fisheries Minister explained that the government has taken proactive measures to sanitise the sector through regulatory reforms and improvement in the governance system.
Specific regulatory reforms and governance actions taken, Madam Koomson, noted included the drafting of a new Fisheries Act to replace the existing Act; revision of existing National Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy to incorporate emerging issues in the fisheries sector; adoption and implementation of National Plan of Action to combat IUU fishing (2021 – 2025); development of a new Marine Fisheries Management Plan (2022-2026); strengthening of Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and Automatic Identification System (AIS); strengthening of the observer programme; undertaking of Sea Patrols in collaboration with Ghana Navy; undertaking of Regular Port and Beach Inspection; and intense Sensitization of Stakeholders on the negative impact of IUU fishing on the national economy.
The Fisheries Minister at a recent press conference in Accra on June 13, 2023, said the Ministry had started a pilot deployment of Electronic Monitoring System (EMS) on three trawl vessels this year and that the exercise will be extended to cover all trawlers and tuna vessels by 2025.
“The EMS has a video recorder, a camera and Global Positioning System (GPS) to recording fishing activities at sea 24/7,” she explained.
She also indicated that a directive to ensure that trawl vessels do not say on water more than 30 days for any fishing expedition would help to combat IUU fishing in the country.
Additionally, Madam Koomson, said the Ghana Maritime Authority had directed all fishing vessel operators to refurbish their vessels to ensure that they are safe for use.
She stressed that the Ministry would not compromise on the safety of fishers onboard any vessels fishing on Ghanaian waters.
She did indicate that as part of measures to prevent illegal trans-shipment of fish at sea, the Ministry has revoked its 15 per cent allowable bycatch by the industrial fishing vessels.
“The implementation of the Directive on trawl gear selectivity to address juvenile catch is one of the requirements for the grant of fishing license to trawlers. We have also revoked a Ministerial Directive in 2015 that allowed industrial trawlers to catch 15% of bycatch and juvenile fish,” she explained.
Madam Koomson said the Ministry has engaged the leadership of the Ghana Industrial Trawlers Association on the bycatch issue and that all the stakeholders are complying with the new directive.
She noted that it IUU fishing was not dealt with, gains made through closed season and other fisheries governance measures would be eroded, saying “It was agreed again at our 13th April 2023 meeting that, gains from implementing the closed season would be eroded if we all do not collectively combat IUU fishing activities.”
That, she said, the Ministry would not relent on its efforts to continue to empower the Fisheries Enforcement Unit to curb any illegal activity on Ghanaian waters.
The Fisheries Minister indicated that as a way of reducing pressure on the fisheries resources, the Ministry and its partners, including the Ghana Fisheries Recovery Activity “has launched the alternative livelihood training support for fishers starting with five hundred and fifty (550) fishers in masonry, carpentry, dressmaking, hairdressing, electronics and auto engineering in selected communities along the coast.”
The training, she explained, would be scaled up to cover 8,000 fishers and after the training, trainees would be supported to set up to ensure that they can earn incomes from their trade.
For the Fisheries Minister, considering the new management and regulatory policies being introduced by the Ministry and the Fisheries Commission, Ghana will soon come out of its second Yellow card.
Madam Koomson further indicated that Ghana was ready to work with other coastal countries in the ECOWAS region in the areas of joint fishing observer programme to fight IUU fishing.
She further added that Ghana was willing to comply with internationally accepted sustainable fishing practices as well as work with its development partners such as the European Union to ensure that the country is free from IUU fishing.
New regulatory policies
The Executive Director of the Fisheries Commission, Mr. Fred Kwasi Antwi-Boadu, agrees with the sector Minister that Ghana will soon come out of the second yellow card.
His conviction is based on the fact that the introduction of new regulatory and management policies will ensure compliance with sustainable fishing practices.
He said a new Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy has received Cabinet approval for implementation and that it will be the basis, among others, for the preparation of a new Fisheries Bill.
In addition, Mr Antwi-Boadu, said cabinet has also granted approval for the enactment for a new Fisheries Act, pointing out that legal review meetings has been ongoing with a fisheries consultant from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to complete the drafting instructions on the new Bill.
He also noted that a National Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU (NPOA-IUU) 2021- 2025 has been deposited with FAO.
“A new Marine Fisheries Management Plan (MFMP) (2022 – 2026) has been developed. One of the measures in the Management Plan is to conserve the fish stocks and further reduce over capitalization in the artisanal and industrial sectors,” he explained.
The Fisheries Commission boss disclosed that one of the key initiatives to help address overfishing and overcapacity in Ghana’s fisheries, is the introduction of a 3-year moratorium on new entrants into the artisanal sector in which consultations with stakeholders are very advanced.
For Mr Antwi-Boadu, completing outstanding payment of fines imposed for infractions committed is now a condition for renewal of fishing licence, pointing out that fines imposed in previous years are also being collected.
He said sanction regime in the Fisheries Act 625 will be reviewed in the new Bill to ensure that engaging in IUU fishing becomes a high-risk venture.
He further indicated that “Ghana has instituted continuous training for fisheries inspectors and observers to conduct thorough inspections at port and at sea to enhance MCS operations.”
Similarly, Mr. Antwi-Boadu said processes have been initiated to procure four patrol boats to strengthen law enforcement on Ghana’s sea, and that “one research vessel will also be procured to collect requisite scientific data for the development of future management plans that aligns vessel numbers to available fish stocks.”