Even before the fishing closed season for industrial trawlers, scheduled between August 1 and September 30, 2019, takes effect, stakeholders in the fisheries value chain have predicted that this year’s fishing ban will have a low impact on the depleting fish stock in the country's marine sub-sector.
That, they explained, was due to the wrongful nature in which the break in fishing activities had so far been implemented by the government.
The stakeholders maintained that the period in which the fishing closed season was being observed for both the artisanal fishers and the industrial trawlers clearly defeated the purpose for which it was designed.
The government, through the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD), fixed this year's closed season for artisanal fishers between May 15 and June 15 while that of industrial trawlers is to take place between August and September.
But few weeks after the observation of the artisanal closed season, fisher folks across the country's coastal regions have started reporting cases of low and sometimes zero catch despite government banning fishing activities between May 15 and June 15 this year to help improve fishing activities.
Explaining that the closed season was not designed to take immediate effect, the stakeholders, in separate interviews with the GRAPHIC BUSINESS, insisted that the outcome was likely not to be favourable following the decision by the government to abandon the initial recommendations of the Scientific and Technical Working Group (STWG) of the Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP).
The scientific group recommended that the closed season should be observed by all fleets (with exception of tuna) at the same time within July, August or September to allow the fish to have the needed space to reproduce to replenish the depleting fish stock in the sea.
A study by the SFMP in 2018 indicated that the country's small pelagic fish species – sardinella, anchovies and mackerel – have reached unsustainable levels and may face total depletion by the year 2020 if urgent measures are not instituted to reduce fishing and recover dwindling stock.
The SFMP study received a shot in the arm from the Fisheries Commission of the MoFAD which also released a report early this year, which showed the continuous decline in fish stock levels and sizes of fish due to over-exploitation of the sea through illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities.
For instance, in 2018, the sector suffered a decline of 14.5 per cent in total marine fish production from 342,427 tonnes in 2017 to 293,294 tonnes.
It is, however, expected that if closed season fishing is observed effectively, landings of small pelagic fish by artisanal fishers will increase from as low as 15,000 tonnes in 2017 to 90,000 tonnes in 2025.
Last year, when the MoFAD attempted to close the season between August 7 and September 4, it was opposed by some fisher folks due to the lack of extensive engagement with all stakeholders.
When contacted about the development, the Chairman of the Scientific and Technical Working Group, Prof. Kobina Yankson, observed that the impact of the closed season was expected to be seen a year after its implementation.
But with the nature of implementation, he said the impact was likely not to help replenish the depleting fish stock in the marine sub-sector as intended.
“The low catch after the closed season has not come to the attention of the STWG because we have not met. But in the first place, the fishing break was not implemented at the right time, which is supposed to be August.
“If the ban on fishing was implemented once as recommended, it would allow the fish to reproduce and the impact of that would be seen after a year and not few weeks after the closed season,” Prof. Yankson, who is also a lecturer at the Department of Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences of the University of Cape Coast (UCC), told the paper on July 15.
Rising illegal fishing
The comments of the lecturer were corroborated by the Programmes Manager of Friends of the Nation (FoN), Mr Kyei Kwadwo Yamoah, who said the widespread over-exploitation of the sea through illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities were the key reasons behind the depleting stock.
“Until the government takes the needed steps to address the illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities at sea, closed season alone cannot address the challenge at hand.
“In fact, we can do closed season for five months, yet we shall have zero results if the fundamental problem is not tackled. The government promised to deal with the illegal fishing activities before, during and after the 2019 closed season but as at now, nothing has been done,” he added.
Friends of the Nation, in collaboration with CARE and Oxfam in Ghana, is the implementer of Far Ban Bo, a fisheries governance project funded by the European Union.
It is designed to help address the challenges of overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices, including illegal, unreported and unprotected fishing, low compliance and weak capacity for law enforcement within the sector.