(Frozen blocks of fish being prepared for tans-shipment from a trawler to a saiko canoe. Photo credit: EJF)
Illegal fishing practices in Ghana’s fisheries sector continue to push stocks of some key species, such as sardinella, mackerel and anchovy otherwise known as the ‘people fish’ to the brink of collapse. These fish species represent an affordable and accessible food protein source for poor households and play a crucial role in maintaining good nutrition and health.
One such illegalities which has recently become a key source of worry to most stakeholders is ‘Saiko’. It involves industrial trawlers targeting the staple catch of canoe fishers in large quantities and selling them to saiko operators at sea, who in turn sell them to the local communities for profit. Available information from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), one of the European Union’s funded fisheries projects in the Central region estimated the cost of ‘Saiko’ trading in 2017 at the local landing beaches in the region as representing over US$ 50 million.
The practice is said to have begun as an informal trading system where unwanted fish caught by industrial vessels were exchanged at sea for goods brought by canoe fishermen. It has since evolved into a highly organized, illegal and lucrative industry where industrial trawlers – licensed only to fish for demersal (bottom-dwelling) species target fish specifically for the saiko trade. The original term was ‘saite’ and dates back to the 1970s when it was used by Japanese fishermen to describe the ‘bad’ fish that their trawlers were discarding. But the locals saw the value of the bycatch and insisted it was ‘saiko’ meaning ‘good/useful’ fish.
Nana Jojo Solomon, an Executive member of the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen’s Council (GNCFC), laments “the operation of ‘saiko’ threatens economic growth in the sector and presents a national security problem that potentially affects the livelihoods of as many as over 140,000 fishers involved in the marine fishery sector, from fishermen to processors to traders.” He adds “Ghana’s fisheries are in need of support to halt the decline of the stocks and implement key management measures to achieve sustainability.”
Fishing is a major source of livelihoods to over two million direct and indirect people in Ghana as well as more than 300 coastal villages which depend on fisheries as their primary source of income. As part of activities marking the world Ocean Day 2020, DevGoals Africa takes a look at the efforts of some of the civil society organizations working in the fisheries sector in Ghana and shared the following observations representing the change of transformation most fishers are demanding and expecting.
Over the last three years, the London based Environmental Justice Foundation has been working in Ghana’s Central region to bring together government, fishers, civil society and other stakeholders to address deep-rooted problems. This involves eliminating illegalities and promoting the adoption of sustainable fishing practices. Environmental Justice Foundation worked to engage more than 1000 stakeholders at the community, regional and district levels, and built the capacities of more than 800 fisherfolk on sustainable practices and fisheries laws. The idea is to increase support for the adoption of sustainability and reverse the trend of illegalities in fishing.
Progressively, Environmental Justice Foundation developed and introduced mobile application dubbed ‘dase’ (a fante word meaning evidence), that allow fishers to capture illegalities in the form of videos and geotagged pictures at sea and upload them onto designated server for processing and onward distribution to the fisheries authorities for remedial action. One of the over 100 new app users in the region and whose name is withheld due to security and safety reasons, said “Thanks to EJF, we can now generate evidence of various illegalities happening right here on our waters.” The fisher added, “fishing is our livelihood, our family needs all depend on it and therefore we have to support the effort against illegalities”.
Steve Trent, Executive Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, believes that ending ‘saiko’ is of great importance to the people of Ghana, especially the fisheries sector, as it will enhance food security, safeguard jobs and promote economic growth. “Eliminating illegalities will stimulate the economy and boost the well-being of the coastal communities”.
Far Ban Bo (FBB), which means protecting fisheries livelihoods in fante is another European Union funded project through CARE-Ghana. The project works to complement the effort of eliminating fisheries illegalities. According to the project Coordinator, Kwame Mensah “we have established Anti-illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing task force comprising more than 60 community folks in our operational areas across the four coastal regions to give series of training on responsible fishing practices and fisheries regulations to fishers.”
Both CARE Ghana and Environmental Justice Foundation jointly work with Organizations like Hen Mpoano, Fisheries and Livestock Chamber, Cerath Development Organization, CEMLAWS Africa, Oxfam in Ghana and Friends of the Nation towards addressing fisheries sustainability in Ghana through open advocacy and intuitional strengthening.
This progress represents a significant step towards reaching one of the key targets of Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals which seeks to effectively regulate harvesting and end over- fishing, illegal, unreported and regulated fishing and destructive fishing practices.
It also aims at implementing science-based management plan, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yields as determined by their biological characteristics.
Source: Devgoals Africa, by Nii Odenkey Abbey