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Opinions of Friday, 15 December 2017

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

Giant steps in combatting illegal fishing

Ghana is an important fishing nation in Africa and the world because about 10 per cent of its citizenry operates in the fisheries sector and produces about 450,000 metric tonnes of fish from both capture and culture. It is also known to have high per-capita fish consumption higher than the world’s average.

Based on the characterisation of the United Nations (UN) Convention of the Law of the Sea, Ghana stands as a Coastal State, Flag State, Port State and also a Market State.

Ghana is, therefore, under international obligation to ensure that its own fishing fleets are regulated; that it has the capacity to regulate fishing activity in its Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) and designated fish-landing ports to avoid becoming a destination for illegally caught fish; and also to ensure that its fish products entering the international markets are certified.

In November 2013, Ghana’s failure to take sufficient actions against illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities by Ghana flagged vessels brought about the European Commission’s (EC’s) issuance of a ‘yellow card’ sanction on Ghana, tainted with illegally caught fish. This yellow card effectively banned the export of fishery products from Ghana into the 28-nation trade bloc of the European Union (EU).

Following this sanction which deprived the country of over US$150 million, Ghana made a significantly credible progress in improving the governance of the fisheries sector, as well as combating IUU. The government of Ghana, through the West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme (WARFP), has put in place appropriate fisheries legislative measures, inter-agency and international cooperation, collaboration and coordination, as well as human and logistical resources to manage and regulate the fisheries sector and maritime domain.

After satisfying the several stringent requirements, the EC, on October 1, 2015, removed Ghana from the IUU watch list. Announcing the decision to lift the yellow card from Ghana, the EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Mr Karmenu Vella, extolled the significant reforms that had been carried out in Ghana to improve the governance and fight illegal fishing.

“Today’s decision demonstrates the extraordinary potential of the EU market to bring important players on board in the fight against IUU. Both Ghana and Papau New Guinea have taken ownership of their fisheries reforms and now have robust legal and policy frameworks in place to fight IUU fishing activities,” he stated.

Fisheries Enforcement Unit (FEU)

A major step in enforcing Ghana’s fisheries laws and regulations came about in September 2013 with the establishment of the Fisheries Enforcement Unit (FEU), a little over a decade after the primary fisheries law, Fisheries Act, 2002 (Act 625) was passed.

The Fisheries Regulations, 2010 (L.I. 1968) preceded the FEU by three years. The FEU, as prescribed under Section 94 of the Fisheries Act, 2002, was among the maiden covenants of the West African Regional Fisheries Programme (WARFP; 2012-2017).

The FEU was established with personnel drawn from the Fisheries Commission, Ghana Navy and Marine Police Unit of the Ghana Police Service, and is headed by a captain from the Ghana Navy. The FEU’s mandate is to enforce Ghana’s fisheries and related laws in all its fishery waters.

Currently, the FEU operates from two bases, Tema and Takoradi, and oversees the Eastern and Western Sectors of the maritime zone respectively. The FEU’s activities include sea patrols, beach combing, quayside inspections and electronic vessel monitoring, enforcing regulations on fishing gear, fishing zones, fishing documentation and fish landings.

With financial, technical and logistical support from WARFP, the FEU has undertaken over 200 sea patrols since 2013, both in the territorial waters, as well as the EEZ, and has undertaken over 300 boardings of fishing vessels comprising tuna vessels, trawlers, semi-industrial vessels and canoes. On land, the FEU undertakes daily inspection of vessels in the harbours and has also undertaken over 200 beach combings.

In all, over a hundred cases, comprising various fisheries offences (use of monofilament nets, use of artificial light to aggregate fish, landing of small-sized fish, fishing in the Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ), use of fraudulent documentation, transshipment at sea, as well as tampering of electronic monitoring devices) have been successfully prosecuted largely by the Fisheries Settlement Committees in Tema and Takoradi.

Over GH¢5 million in fines have been paid by offenders into the Fisheries Development Fund. In addition, over 300 generator sets and 1,500 monofilament nets have been seized, whereas about 1,000 metric tonnes of illegally caught fish have been confiscated.

Electronic surveillance

In order to exercise its Flag State responsibilities satisfactorily, Ghana is required to effectively regulate vessels flying its flag. Regulation 40 of the Fisheries Regulation, 2010 (L.I.1968) prescribes that no Ghanaian-flagged vessel can proceed to sea without a functioning Vessel Monitoring System (VMS).

By October 2012, all Ghanaian tuna vessels, and by September 2014, all Ghanaian trawlers were fitted with VMS, and in the case of the trawlers, Automatic Identification System (AIS), with funding from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and WARFP-Ghana.

Prior to being fitted with the electronic devices, some Ghanaian vessels operated illegally in third party states waters and in the IEZ without being noticed by the Fisheries Authorities.

Currently, no Ghanaian-flagged vessel is able to operate in restricted zones without it being observed and arrested. For that matter, the FEU has been able to achieve almost 100 per cent compliance, with respect to Ghanaian vessels fishing within authorised zones. This has also paved the way for most of the operators of industrial vessels to request for valid fishing authorisation from third party states before proceeding to fish in those waters.

Also, all Ghanaian tuna purse seiners are fitted with closed-circuit video cameras to monitor their fishing activities through the support of the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) – Tuna pilot project in Ghana (2014-2019) being funded by the Global Environmental Fund (GEF) and partners (the Food and Agricultural Organisation, World Wildlife Fund,the International Sustainable Seafood Foundation, etc.).
Fisheries observer missions

At-sea observer missions are requirements under international law to place trained observers on at least 30 per cent of the industrial fleet as part of the country’s Flag State and Coastal State responsibilities. With support from WARFP-Ghana, the FEU has trained 70 observers for deployment on Ghana-flagged trawlers since August 2015.

Up until May 2016, 72 observer missions had been deployed on Ghana-flagged trawlers to monitor mostly compliance with fishing regulations regarding fishing gear, fishing zones, fish and by-catch landings, crew composition and transshipment at sea and pollution.

The reports submitted by the observers have been used to prosecute 15 vessel operators for various offences (transshipment at sea, landing of fish below the authorised minimum size, dumping of fish at sea and oil pollution). Some of these offences could not have been detected by relying only on the VMS.

Fisheries Watch Volunteer programme

As part of efforts to create sufficient space for the participation of fishers in the enforcement of fisheries regulations, a Fisheries Watch Volunteer (FWV) programme was on May 5, 2017 launched at Otrokpe in the Ada East District by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development.

The volunteers are required to conduct sea-borne and land-based patrols, collect evidence on fisheries infractions and report all forms of illegal activities to authorities.

The programme is currently being piloted at Ada and Jamestown in the Greater Accra Region, in collaboration with the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council (GNCFC).

Challenges and prospects

The FEU is nevertheless challenged by the fact that it has only 16 personnel, 22 seconded personnel each from the Ghana Navy and Marine Police, and supported in prosecutions by two State Attorneys from the Attorney-General’s Department in Tema and Takoradi. These personnel are directly involved in enforcing the fisheries laws in all the fishery waters of Ghana.

There is the urgent need for the staff strength of the FEU to be increased and new offices opened at Elmina on the coast in the Central Region and also at Kpando Torkor and Yeji on the Volta Lake.

The Fisheries Commission has recently been provided with mobile communication vans, with the support of WARFP, and it would be imperative to resource the Communications Unit with requisite staff to intensify public education and sensitisation programmes in the fishing communities.