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Opinions of Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Columnist: Obrempong Yaw Ampofo

‘Polifishians’ and dwindling fish stock pt.1

“Sea never dry” is one of the many popular writings on fishing vessels seen along the beaches from Keta in the Volta Region to Half Assini in the westernmost part of Ghana.

It is said to show how impossible it is for the vast sea resources to dry up. Yes, it is unimaginable for the sea to dry up, but one thing is clear, the fish stock in the sea can “dry up,” reducing the sea to only transportation and hydrocarbon production.

Statistics obtained on Sardinella [Emane], Anchovies [Keta school boys] and Mackerel from the Fisheries Commission on the status of fish stock from 1980 to 2014 paints a gloomy picture. “These species have been decreasing sharply since 2007 and have reached in 2014 about 15% of the maximum landings realized in 1996.

This trend will soon lead to the collapse of the resources and the fisheries sector,” Sustainable Fisheries Management Project, SFMP observes. “Current fishing pressure [Number of boats and fishing trips] on small pelagic fish stock in Ghana is estimated at 0.74, well above the acceptable level of fishing pressure estimated at 0.4.

There are several factors to why we are here, but the factors can be put into two groups. Fishing practices of fishermen and politicians. This article focuses on the political causes of the dwindling fish stock, while the other two subsequent write-ups will look at the fishermen’s role.

1.The fronting ‘polifishian,’ the Chinese trawler and transshipment The fisheries Act empowers the Minister for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development to sign and issue license for trawler vessels to operate in Ghana. The law also requires that trawler vessels are owned hundred percent by Ghanaians.

However, some “polifishians” invite Chinese trawler vessels and front for them. As a result, I ask myself, how can a Ghanaian-owned trawler vessel have names such as Luo Huan Xi, Lu Jian Ho, Hia Jinx Tui etc? It means there is more to it. Isn’t it what is driving transshipment or “Saeco?” Conflicting figures Is it not why the Chinese are catching these small fishes [which the law frowns] so that their Ghanaian counterpart will benefit from that, while they will benefit from the export or big fishes?”

It is heart breaking to pick signals that the World Bank is not so happy with Ghana on the continuous conflicting figures produced for how many trawlers licensed to operate in Ghana. For me, a bold and empowered Fisheries Commission should do us all the favor and ask the hard questions espcially when shiny black 4X4s are parked during meetings of the Trawlers Association.

The irony is also that, it is only the minister who signs the license for the trawlers. So if there are conflicting figures to the World Bank, we need to find out from that office. This is the fundamental problem why the “order from above” syndrome is well and alive. The trawler vessels are owned indirectly by politicians.

2.The “Order from above” syndrome One of the feared statements by fisheries law enforcement agencies is the “order from above” mantra. In other words, order from the politician. Whenever it is unleashed to an arresting officer or unit head, millions of fishes in the sea fall unconscious.

Out of greed and complete disregard for conservation of the fisheries resources, the fisherman who thinks of only today unleashes all the bad fishing methods on the fishes in the 90s.

Reality caught up on him in the 2000s. But, stock conservation became abomination. They sadly resorted to more sophisticated methods at sea. With the help of generators, they throw light at the bottom of the ocean in the night. This attracts all fishes ready to spawn, including even a day old fish, trap all of them in their nets, sample those they want, and throw back dead stock back into the sea.

Others even poison the stock in order to catch them. When they are caught by the Marine Police or the Navy, the politician calls the arresting officers and orders them to release the offenders. They order for the release of the offenders of laws the politicians themselves enacted. [They enact the laws and make them strong in books in Parliament, but soften them at implementation stages at sea].

In some cases where the case moves to the arresting unit head, offenders fishing gears, generators and other equipment are handed over to offenders freely at the blind side of the arresting officer, creating mistrust and “master say” atmosphere within enforcement units.

3.Politicians and subsidies on fishing inputs Some argue that fishing inputs are even subsidized in advanced worlds like the US and the UK. Correct! But I challenge those debaters to provide a list of best fishing practices and list of violations in these worlds.

Their fishing environment is entirely sanitized than ours in Ghana! Statistics has it that, only 9,000 fishing vessels are to be allowed from Keta to Half Assini. But, “the number of canoes doubled since 1980 and continues to increase under open access. This sector comprises 12,728 canoes contributing about 65% of the annual landings of all species in the sea estimated at 254,000 metric tons in 2014.” [Fisheries Commission-FSSD] This statement simply implies that, there are many canoes [in excess of 3,728] fishing vessels chasing fewer and dwindling fish stock in the sea.

Why will anybody disregard the statistics from an officially mandated body like the Fisheries Commission and imports outboard motors and other fishing gears at subsidized rates? When fishing inputs are or any other commodity is subsidized, it encourages people to buy more.

In this case, you position the fishermen to buy more fishing inputs. When the people are empowered to buy more, you encourage them to go after the already dwindled fish stock. It becomes a pitiful sight to behold when the “first sons” of the land mount political platforms in coastal constituencies to promise more reduced prices of fishing inputs on the glaring face of the dwindling fortunes of the industry.

Your attitude complicates the fisheries management strategies the state institutions adopt to curtail the situation. At this point, I call you a failed and coward son! Tell the people the truth and let them face the reality! When those inputs [especially outboard motors and fuel] are not subsidized, and even made relatively scarce in selected fishing seasons,[preferably the spawning times] fishermen resorts to the paddle and canoe fishing. They may not be empowered to go deeper, thereby allowing the fish ample time to restock themselves.

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