Graphic Business News

Has 2019 close season changed the game? - Govt declares success, stakeholders skeptical

By: Mclean Kwofi
Ms Elizabeth Naa Afoley Quaye - Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development

Effective September 30, this year, the government will officially open the sea for industrial trawlers to start their fishing activities.

This is after a two month consecutive ban on fishing in a move to give the country's flagging fish stock a chance to rebuild.

During that period, industrial fishing companies were not allowed to fish, but artisanal fishers were allowed because they had observed their closed season between May 15 and June 15.

Both industrial and artisanal fishers appeared to support the closure, the first of its kind, during declining catches and an influx of virtually unregulated foreign fishing vessels that locals complained were wiping out the fish stocks and putting them out of business.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD) declared the closure for the artisanal fishers successful and that the ministry was likely to do same for the industrial trawlers. However, stakeholders in the value chain have expressed doubt that the move would do much to improve the country's fisheries sector.

Govt declare success
A source at MoFAD told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS in an interview on Thursday, September 19, in Accra that the ministry had already declared the close season for 2019 a success.

The source said the ministry saw the exercise as part of the country's broader effort to formalise and gain regulatory control of the fisheries sector.

“The main reason for the closure was to give the fish an opportunity to breed and with this, we believe have been achieved. Although the ban is being lifted the laws prohibiting light fishing and use of obnoxious chemicals and unorthodox methods of fishing are still in force,” the source said.

The source expressed concern over the numerous challenges the country was facing as a result of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

According to the source, the government is taking a suite of measures beyond the sea closures to ensure the country’s enormous fisheries potential is fully harnessed.

Among the measures, the source said would consist of pushing for co-management of the country’s fisheries by stakeholders from the industry, the government and civil society groups to improve the reliability of data to enhance marine resource management.

“It also include the establishment of 10 fishing ports and fish landing sites along the coast of the country. When completed, they would have a cold storage facility, an iced block making factory, a net mending shed among other amenities.”

Wrong implementation
The Programmes Manager of Friends of the Nation (FoN), Mr Kyei Kwadwo Yamoah, observed that compliance was indeed successful but the impact of the exercise in general would not be seen.

According to him, the outcome was likely not be favourable due to 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 close 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.

“Being the first close season in the country, the success was that the fisher folks complied but the period for the exercise was not appropriate biologically.

“If the ban in fishing was implemented once as recommended, it will allow the fish to reproduce and the impact of that will be seen after a year of the exercise,” he said.

He added that the exercise should have been organised simultaneously for both the artisanal fishers and the industrial trawlers to help the depleting stock to replenish.

The country’s fish catch had dwindled in the last 10 years.

According to a report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the country’s peak fish catch had dwindled from 120,000 tonnes to 30,000 tonnes within 10 years.

The report described the situation as a ‘true crises’ and indicated the need for unsustainable fishing practices to be halted immediately to save the industry from collapse.

Following the report, the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development and the Fisheries Commission began to put in place measures to address the situation.

One of the measures was the introduction of an annual closed season with the aim of ensuring that fish spawned to replenish the country’s fast depleting marine fish stock.

This year’s closed season was, therefore, started with the artisanal fishers between May 15 and June 15, while that of industrial trawlers started in August 1 and it is expected to end in September 30.

But, when the paper visited some fishing communities in Accra on Monday, September 16, some of the fishing boats were seen idling, especially at Osu and James Town. Some fishermen were seen in their boats looking devastated.

Some said for the past one month, they made few catches when they went fishing, a situation they said always made them run at a loss, considering the cost involved in fueling their boats and the cost of repair.

A fisherman at James Town, Nii Armah, indicated that the sea closure had not yielded any good result because the illegal activities were not controlled.

“We are still experiencing the same predicament as compared to when the ban had not been introduced.

“The sea closure is always welcome, but the government needs to ensure that the period for the closure is long enough to achieve its purpose. Again, the backdoor fishing (illegal fishing) must be addressed,” he added.