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Moving fishing closed season to August laudable

By: Maclean Kwofi
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The government needs to stick to the observance of the closed season in the month of August.

Fisher groups at a stakeholders’ meeting last week proposed that this year's closed season should be observed from July to August instead of the May-June period observed last year.

Their call is in support of the Scientific and Technical Working Group's (STWG’s) proposal of July-August as the best period to observe the closed season by all fleets for maximum impact.

The STWG maintained that the month of August was the peak period for fish to breed and produce more to address the dwindling stock of fish in the country's marine waters.

It said observing the closed season at the right time and banning all illegal activities in the fishing sector would help end the over-exploitation of marine resources and also address the declining fish stock.

The group was formed as an ad hoc committee in 2015 as part of implementing the Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP) to provide science-based management advice and ensure long-term sustainability of fish stock.

The SFMP is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project which is aimed at eradicating poverty and hunger globally.

GNCFC's position

At the stakeholders’ meeting, the acting National President of the Ghana National Canoe Fishers Council (GNCFC), Nana Jojo Solomon, proposed that this year's fishing closed season be observed in July as scientists had suggested.

He said members of his association, which was the largest fisheries group, believed that the annual closure of the sea would go a long way in helping restore the dwindling fish stock.

He appealed to the government to undertake pre- and post-fishing closed season assessment of Ghana's fish stock to help evaluate its impact.

Parliamentary Select Committee

The Parliamentary Select Committee of Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs, in its 2019 report indicated that gains made as a result of last year's closed season had been lost due to illegal fishing on the country's high seas.

The committee said the low allocation of funds for surveillance on the sea was another factor that contributed to illegal fishing such as 'Saiko' by foreign trawlers on the sea.

The committee said it considered the illegal practices unacceptable due to its drastic effects on the country’s fisheries stock.

It recommends that the Ministry of Finance should ensure that the allocation for surveillance is increased for proper policing to forestall illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) practices in our waters.

Lessons learnt

It, however, appears that lessons have been learnt, as the government indicates that both the 2020 and 2021 closed season would be observed for all fleet simultaneously in two months.

The move, which is an improvement over last year's exercise, was part of the numerous recommendations by the STWG which was initially ignored, and it is aimed at saving some species of fishes such as mackerel and anchovies which are going into extinction due to poor fishing practices.

The government had given a strong indication that it would ban any vessel that engaged itself in illegal fish trans-shipment (Saiko) from fishing in the country's territorial waters. It will also surcharge and ban any artisanal canoe involved in IUU fishing from receiving premix fuel.

Select August

Now the difficulty is the adaption of July to August as the appropriate period for the fishing closed season by the government, although majority of the fisher folks have already okayed the date.

In spite of the fact that there are still sketchy details on why the government keeps ignoring August as an appropriate period for the exercise, it is believed that observing the fishing ban within the scientific stipulated period is crucial to help grow the fortunes of the sector.

This is because August has been considered widely as the high period for fish to breed and produce more to address the dwindling stock of fish in the nation’s marine waters.

For this reason, the various fisheries groups need to collaborate with stakeholder institutions such as the European Union (EU), Oxfam in Ghana and Friends of the Nation to engage the government further on the need to select July - August as the period for the exercise.

Selecting an appropriate period will ensure the objective of the exercise is achieved to promote sustainable fishing and also help replenish the depleting fish stock in the marine sub-sector.

Although aqua-culture production may have increased to more than 50,000 tonnes of fish annually, we still cannot discount sea fishing as it accounts for a larger chunk of the fish and other marine needs of the country.

That is why we cannot get it wrong with the closed fishing season. All stakeholders must be involved to ensure the smooth implementation of the policy so that we chalk up maximum success in its implementation.