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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Troubles of marine fishing deepen, expert outlines urgent solutions to rescue sector

Fresh and marine waters of Ghana are endowed with fisheries resources which should provide sustainable economic opportunities.

However, marine fish catch keeps declining over the last few years due to overfishing, overexploitation, marine pollution, among other factors.

Catch per unit of effort (CPUE) of all fleets are declining, except tuna fleet.

Records show that fish landings of key marine species like sardinellas are at their lowest levels and of much smaller sizes

Sustainable fisheries management measures ensure that fisheries resources benefit both present and future generations.

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Ghana imports 60% of fish needs

The country imports 60% of fish and produce 40% of fish within the country.

Fish imports cost $233m in 2019

In 2019, nearly $233 million of fish and fish products were imported into Ghana.

135,000 fishers in the marine sub-sector alone

The fisheries sector support 135,000 fishers in the marine sub-sector alone.

Indirectly supports livelihoods of 2.2m Ghanaians

Ghana’s fisheries contribute 4.5% to annual Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and indirectly support the livelihoods of 2.2 million people or 10% of all people in Ghana.

70% protein needs for Ghanaians

Fish provides about 70% of the protein needs of Ghanaians.

For a comprehensive solution, the Secretary of the Ghana Tuna Association (GTA), Mr Richster Nii Amarh Amarfio, has provided an in-depth analysis of challenges and opportunities of the fisheries sector.

The vociferous advocate for the fisheries sector detailed the various actions needed to harness the full potential of the sector.

Buy vessels to replace canoes – stakeholders

Mr Amarfio added his voice to calls by some players in the fishing industry for government to consider buying vessels to replace the over 14,000 canoes currently fishing in Ghana’s sea as a managing tool for the country’s dwindling fish stock.

Purchasing robust vessels

Just as the government provides logistics for farmers, he and others urged the government to consider purchasing robust vessels to cater for the large number of canoes.

Too much reliance on enforcement

“Instead of the government helping to save the industry, there is too much reliance on enforcement, fisherfolks say Ghana’s fisheries recoveries only emphasize enforcement rather than rebuilding stock and creating employment,” he disclosed.

Creating alternative income for fishermen

Mr Amarfio added that there was the need to reduce the number of canoes on the sea to help replenish the stock while creating alternative income for the fishermen.

Ghana among top 5 African countries with high consumption of fish in the world

He said Ghana is among the highest fish consumption countries in Africa and five of the African countries with high consumption in the world.

Therefore, he emphasised the need to increase the country’s stock with proper management tools.

22 to 27 kilogrammes of fish per capita consumption

He said Ghana consumes between 22 to 27 kilogrammes of fish per capita, which is higher than the 11 and 13 kilogrammes per capita average for Africa and the world respectively.

Ghana consumes over one million metric tonnes of fish

The GTA Secretary noted that about one million metric tonnes of fish are consumed in Ghana per annum.

Importation of fish to cover the deficit

Sadly, the country’s fisheries sector is unable to meet this demand, leading to an imbalance between supply and demand, a situation which has led to the importation of fish to cover the deficit.

Tuna industry appeal for govt’s intervention

Focusing on his sector, Mr Amarfio appealed to government to help revive the tuna industry, especially the pole and line type of fishing, as only two of them may continue to function by 2022 due to high operational cost.

$350m contribution to economy dwindles

The tuna industry used to contribute over $350 million annually to the economy but that had dwindled due to the non-functioning of the vessels.

Stakeholder engagement is urgently needed

In his view, the government needs broad stakeholder engagement, particularly with vessel operators (tuna and trawlers), to have an understanding of the fishing industry, as that would enable it to know and appreciate some of their challenges at firsthand and find appropriate remedies to them.

Only 5 out 20 registered pole and line vessels in operation

He explained that even though Ghana has 20 registered pole and line vessels, only five are currently in operation due to high operational cost involved in the tuna fishing.

Over 45 years vessels being scraped

Mr Amarfio, also the Director of Operations at Laif Fisheries, said most of the vessels were being scraped as they are older than 45 years and expensive to manage due to high maintenance cost.

“These vessels are operated by Koreans, Japanese and few Chinese. The law allows for joint venture, 50/50 and all the captains on the tuna vessels are mostly Koreans. It is expensive to use a foreign captain.

“You need to pay your crew and provide them with food for the period they will be at sea, which is between 35 to 40 days, water fetched from the port is paid at a dollar rate, docking is paid in dollars and everything we do at the port is pegged to the dollar,” he disclosed.

Scarcity of anchovies used as bait to catch tuna

According to him, anchovies (a palegic fish species) used as bait for harvesting tuna are available, but the method of harvesting them is challenging because they are needed as bait and not target fish, which require some light attraction.

“We need just about 50 kilogrammes of anchovies per trip and some light attractions to use them as bait,” he added and explained that using light as attractions to get baits for fishing would save time and cost.

“But if you need to spend two weeks at bait ground in search, how much time will you spend for fishing, and because it is for a fortnight, the bait gets stressed up and you might have to return to the fishing ground without getting live anchovies and will result in the start of the entire process,” he explained.

Some administrative clearance to use light to catch bait needed

He said governments, in dealing with such challenges, should give operators some administrative clearance to use light to catch bait, stating that in future, research should be conducted on how they could carry out bait farming in a mariculture to be supplied to vessels.

High cost of fuel and water charges paid in dollars

The other challenges, he mentioned, include high cost of fuel and water charges paid in dollars at the ports.

Appeal for govt loans to increase stake in tuna fishing industry

Mr Amarfio also appealed to the government to support Ghanaians through loans to increase their stake in the tuna fishing industry in the process of acquiring new vessels, as currently, foreigners have the higher stake.

Calls to establish specialised banks to support fisheries industry

The GTA Secretary is also on a crusade calling for the establishment of fisheries banks to support the operations of industry players.

According to him, most banks do not understand the fishing industry well to give loans for its operations, forcing some companies to fold up.

High interest rates on loans

Mr Amarfio said fishing companies do not have access to loans, and even if the banks give loans, the interest rates are way beyond what the companies can manage.

High licensing fees

Amarfio asserted that the astronomical increment in fishing licensing fees is affecting operations of fishing vessels in the country, and called for a review to restore hope in the industry.

He said the situation is not only affecting the fishing industry, but also negatively impacting the operations of vessels on Ghana’s territorial waters.

$135 per gross registered tonnage too high

He said in Ghana, $135 per gross registered tonnage (GRT), an increase from $35 per GRT, is charged on the weight of their vessels, adding that such high a fee affects their businesses.

$60,000 paid annually

He added that vessels that leave Ghana to Sierra Leone and Liberia for fishing pay about $60,000 annually, and comparatively, it is not fair to Ghanaian operators to pay such high charges.

$20 per gross registered tonnage in Senegal

He cited Senegal as example which had just got its own flag vessels, and they pay a moderate charge of $20 per GRT.

Some vessels spent about $50,000 on fuel

Apart from that, he said the cost of running the vessels is a major problem as their fuel is deregulated with surging cost, adding that some vessels spend about $50,000 on fuel, a situation which is affecting their businesses.

Disregard for environment is killing fishes

He wants Ghanaians to respect the environment, including the sea, as the wanton disregard for the environment is killing fishes in Ghana’s water bodies.

Treatment of water bodies negatively affecting aquatic life

He said the treatment of the country’s water bodies was negatively affecting aquatic life, stressing that “if you can’t drink that water, know that the fish in it will die.”

Relationship between marine life and clean water

The Secretary of the Ghana Tuna Association disclosed that there is a relationship between marine life and clean water, noting that now that the various mangroves that provide a safe place for fishes to lay their eggs to replenish are all gone, a situation which is contributing to the depletion of the country’s fish stock.

He said if the country’s water bodies are clean and can support aquatic life, the dependent on fish from the sea would not be too overbearing.

“Now everyone is relying on the ocean because inshore fishing can’t be done in the rivers such as Pra, Ankobra and the rest. Our fishing industry is not resilient; it is collapsing,” he said.

Impact of illegal mining and the discharge of untreated solid

Mr Amarfio explained that activities such as illegal mining and the discharge of untreated solid and industrial waste into the water bodies are killing fishes.

No central treatment plant to treat effluents

According to him, no district assembly, including the Tema Metropolitan Assembly, which has a lot of industries in its jurisdiction, could point to a central treatment plant to treat effluents and household waste before releasing them into the water bodies.

“The TMA does not have a treatment plant. The entire drains end up in the Chemu Lagoon, and that is what is happening in other districts,” he bemoaned, adding that “we build industries without waste treatment and then they channel their waste into water bodies and destroy them.”

Close season alone not enough

Mr Amarfio called for a holistic approach to the management of Ghana’s fishing sector, as using close season alone is not enough.

He described it as just scratching the surface of the problem, saying close season alone can never resolve the fisheries problems.

No evaluation of impact of Close season

Since the close season began in November 2016, he said there had not been a single evaluation on it to show its impact on the sector.

Mr Amarfio noted that for countries where it is practised, a stock of the fishes is documented before the close season, and after opening another one is done, this he said makes it possible for evaluations to reveal the impact of the policy.

Agitations among fisherfolks

According to him, there are some agitations among fisherfolks concerning the close season because those in charge are not providing any data to prove its effectiveness, in addition to the lack of alternative livelihood for the fishing community during that period.

2 different close seasons defeats the purpose

While artisanal fishing was closed from July 01 to 31, the industrial trawlers close season is often observed between July 01 and August 31.

This means that while the industrial trawlers are in their close season, the artisans who do not go deep into the sea would have access to the pregnant fish as they laid their eggs.

He explained the two different close seasons implemented defeat the purpose of the initiative, which is to allow the fishes to lay their eggs to replace their lost population and increase the fish stock.

Creating artificial reefs

He suggested that other management tools such as creating artificial reefs would help save the country’s fishing industry, explaining that it is one of the many tools used by marine conservationists.

Mr Amarfio added that the reefs which can be made from a variety of natural or synthetic materials aimed at providing a stable growing area and habitat for fishes where they could migrate to lay their eggs and replenish.

Ghana needs to train fishing crew

He also advocated the training of fishing crew to boost the activities of the fishery industry.

Training centres for fishers to specialise

He observed that government needs to understand the activities of the fishery industry and how they operate by setting up training centres for people to specialise in some aspects of the fishery sector to improve the human resource at the sector, which would help improve the economy of the country and reduce unemployment in the country.

He said the lack of fisheries schools in the country is a major challenge for stakeholders in the industry, as sailors on board vessel need to be certified by the Regional Maritime University, because a lot of safety on board is needed, yet there is no training for them.

Mr Amarfio appealed to the government not to neglect the fishery sector; the government should empower the citizens to take over and control their own affairs in the fisheries sector, which is capital intensive.

Taking advantage of AfCFTA to create tuna market within Africa

He sees great opportunities in using the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to create a market for tuna in the landlocked countries.

He said until a big market for tuna is created within Africa, the European Union will remain its single market, making it the sole determiner of trade issues within the industry.

According to him, even though Ghana has enough tuna to feed all the needs of the country and beyond, the EU market remains the only hope for the survival of the industry.

He reminded the government that the industry should not be allowed to die, as doing so would affect not only those in the industry but also those downstream who depend on its activities to make a living.

He stated, for instance, that 70% of the tuna caught by association members go to the Pioneer Food Cannery (PFC) and other canned tuna factories which employ a large number of the youth.

Mr Amarfio added that creating an internal market could also come in a form of developing dishes that would make use of tuna, stressing that “I have not seen hotels in Ghana using tuna in their dishes apart from the canned ones they use for salads.”

School feeding must introduce tuna to menu

He advocated the introduction of tuna into the daily menu for the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP).

He said supplying tuna to GSFP is a great idea, but it will require some form of managerial approach on strategies for repositioning, strengthening and effective delivery – and this requires detailed discussion by the stakeholders.

He also urged Ghanaians to protect and sustain the fisheries industry by developing a taste for tuna.

Mr Amarfio said there was the need to have a stakeholder engagement to revive the industry by taking stock.

“At Mankoadze, a lot of women are selling tuna, we supply them with tuna to sell, so they make a lot of contributions to the day-to-day activities of places such as the factories that are into cannery and the women who smoke the fish and those who buy from the market,” he pointed out.

Mr Amarfio said even though Ghana has enough tuna to feed the needs of the country and beyond, the European Union (EU) market remains the only hope for the survival of the industry.

“Europeans eat a lot of tuna – both raw and canned – so the majority of it goes to the EU market,” he stated.

“Creating an internal market could also come in a form of developing dishes that would make use of tuna,” he added, stressing that “I have not seen hotels in Ghana using tuna in their dishes apart from the canned ones they use for salads.”

The story was written with additional files from the Ghana News Agency

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