Ghana’s once vibrant and flourishing fishing industry dating back to the days of the famous State Fishing Corporation, is today a pale shadow of its former glory.
Fisheries, undoubtedly plays important role in food supply, create income generation for millions and nutrition needs of people respectively.
Statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicate that approximately 43.5 million people work directly in the sector, with 10 million people benefiting from employment in the sector.
Locally, Ghana’s fisheries sector is one of the key sectors supporting the country’s economic development, food security and supporting local livelihoods.
It is further stated that Ghana’s fisheries create jobs for nearly 10 per cent of the active labour force translated into 2.6 million people.
In 2020, fishing in Ghana contributed close to GH¢1.6 billion or about $ 263.2 million to Ghana’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP) where artisanal fishing is the most critical subsector in terms of its contribution to production and local fish supply as well as contributing to approximately 70 to 80 per cent of the total annual marine fish landings according the FAO 2022 report.
Today unfortunately, the country’s fish stocks continue to decline by the day due to a multiplicity of factors ranging from Illegal Unregulated Unreported (IUU) activities to Climate Change to the extent that fishermen who sometimes spent as much as 72 hours on perilous fishing expedition on the seas anticipating a healthy bumper catch have their high expectation dashed due to the small quantity of fish they would return home which only allow them to feed their families and not to make sales and gain some income.
One major factor responsible for the unfortunate situation is attributable to high temperatures at sea due to climate change.
To find out how the fishers are operating under the harsh conditions, this special coverage of climate change and fisheries supported by Gower Street focused on Elmina, one of the traditional fishing communities in the Central Region and Ghana’s oldest historical towns playing host to the Elmina Castle where climate change -a sudden weather phenomenal is having a negative impact on the fishing industry.
According to popular belief among the fishers, the warm temperatures is the cause of many fishes seeking refuge in cooler part of the sea which is further offshore and often off limit to artisanal fishermen due to the limited capacity of their fishing craft.
The fishers claim it is only industrial fishing trawlers that could journey on the high seas on a fishing expedition where most of the catches were exported mostly to the European Union countries for foreign exchange.
Giving his practical experience about how climate change has impacted his fishing trade, Nana Kojo Dadzie, who turns 65, a canoe owner with five member crew said fishing was passed on to him by his father at the age of 25 years and ever since made fishing his trade.
“Yesteryears of fishing is far gone we are now living from hand to mouth as we can no longer boast of a huge catch anytime we went to sea.”
The unusual weather pattern where suddenly the sea becomes extremely rough coupled with heavy downpour results in fruitless expedition after having spent so much money on premix fuel to power our boat engines.
The warm temperatures as a result of climate change, according to the fishers, had resulted in the fish stock not been able to reproduce as expected, compelling them to deploy the use of unapproved fishing gears to scoop smaller fishes which is also affecting the fish population in the fishing area.
Nana Kwame Bentsi, a canoe owner said as fishermen, they were also confronted with the issue of pollution due to plastics that sometimes are collected by the fishing nets from the sea floor.
“Sometimes you fetch more plastics in your net than fish whenever you cast your net into the sea,” he said.
He said fishing as a trade had provided them with income in the past but presently, the story had changed as he had to contend with limited catch anytime he ventures into the shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Climate change, he said, posed significant threat to fisheries on top of many other concurrent pressures such as overfishing, pollution and introduction of new species and therefore, called for an intervention from the government to save the situation.
In an effort to find some solution to the many issues confronting the fishing industry and the way forward to have a sustainable fisheries sector, in the wake of climate change and other environmental factors, Many civil society groups and activists have taken it upon themselves to advocate and assist in bringing the challenges to the attention of the government and its development partners.
One such activists, Mr Muntaka Chasant, who is also a researcher said “Climate change threatens the livelihoods and the food supplies of millions of people in Ghana by modifying habitats for marine fishes and invertebrates in the Atlantic Ocean through changes in species productivity and distribution,
“CO2 build-up in the Atlantic Ocean causes seawater to acidify, threatening marine life, including shellfish, corals, and plankton and also warmed waters affect phytoplankton production, which deprives fish of essential food,” he said.
According to Mr Chasant, fish populations migrate to cooler areas when they cannot thermally tolerate warm waters.
That, he said affects where and who harvests the stock. “This migration of fish stock is beneficial to one water and detrimental to another,” Mr Chasant explained.
Citing a 2019 study published in the journal Science, he added:
“Looking at the impacts of historical warming on marine fisheries production, Free et al. examined 235 populations of 124 species of fish across 38 global ecological regions. They found that ocean warming has shrunk catch potential by a net of four per cent over the past 80 years.”
“However you look at it, changes in fish abundance and movement are affecting yield and profits in Ghana, which have direct impacts on food security and fisheries-related livelihoods. The destructive fishing practice Saiko has worsened the situation of these artisanal fishers as they now often return home empty-handed because the huge trawlers had already scooped up the small pelagics their livelihoods depend on.
“Changes in oceanographic conditions due to climate change are likely to exacerbate declining reproduction patterns, distribution of fish populations, and catch potential in our waters in the decades ahead,” he said
Mr Chasant urged the government to do more to address the impacts of climate change on the artisanal fisheries sector:
“Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to these issues. Not excluding inland fisheries, the artisanal fishers, which for me are the main highlight here, are often voiceless and marginalised.
“Addressing issues such as overfishing, Saiko, the use of light, understanding the mechanism of climate impacts, and early warning systems should help to minimise the effects of climate change on the fisheries sector as they chart a tough course in the years ahead,” Mr Chasant added.
SPECIAL REPORT BY NORMAN COOPER