Our dead fishing industry
As a vegetarian, do I have to bother if others do not get their meat and fish to eat? The answer simply is yes, I am bothered because being vegetarian is a choice which I have no right to impose on anyone; not even on my family. My son, however, chose vegetarianism along the way. And my youngest daughter too.
Ghanaians love their fish and consume over a million tonnes annually. Almost all of our coastal communities are into fishing as a source of livelihood. Indeed, statistics tell us that about 10 per cent of Ghana’s population is engaged in fishing. This means a little over three million Ghanaians are into fishing. But I think this figure needs a review downward since our inland water bodies are being degraded and throwing our fishers out of business. In fact, the only natural environment for fish to thrive in is water.
The Tema fishing harbour has all but died since the middle of last year. All fishing vessels, except a few tuna trawlers, have been grounded because the Ghana Maritime Authority has now woken up from its slumber to insist that these fishing vessels are primed to international standards before they go out to sea.
This edict has affected the operators financially in these hard times that they have virtually nothing to fix their vessels with. The institutional failure in our land is so nauseating that the ordinary man becomes a victim. Of course, standards must be maintained, no doubt, but why did the Maritime Authority wait all these years for these poor fisher folks to manage their businesses the way they knew only to be shackled when they least expected it?
Now, only those with connections in high places import frozen fish into the country. Today, trading in frozen fish is the only activity at the fishing harbour in Tema. One can only get some fresh fish from the artisanal canoe fishers, a negligible undertaking. Those on the value chain of fishing activities at the harbour are out of commission at this point in time.
The situation is not different at the landing beaches. At Jamestown in Accra, plastic waste constitutes the greater percentage of what the fishermen haul ashore from each expedition. And this adds to the cost of repairing their fishing gear.
We have a Fisheries Commission but I wonder if it has all the data on what fishery is all about. Research findings are gathering dust on shelves, because we do not yet have the culture of using research material to better our lot. Every available water body that has living microorganisms is a resource for aquatic life. Rivers, lagoons, lakes and ponds serve this purpose.
The Fisheries Commission should be the one spearheading the fight against the pollution of our water bodies by illegal mining operators, not the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. It is because once the rivers are polluted with toxic chemicals, aquatic life is lost, thus depriving the fishers of their source of livelihood and the communities their source of protein.
The Fisheries Commission seems to be unaware that the estuaries of our rivers have all been silted, thereby starving mangroves of nutrients and cover for the spawning of crustacians like crabs, prawns and shrimps. As a result, shrimpers have folded up their business.
Take the estuary of the Volta River, for example. The silting of this area has given rise to water hyacinth along the banks of the river right from Kpong in the Asuogyaman District all the way down to Sogakope and Ada in the South Tongu and Dangme East Districts respectively. The river used to discharge water into the Keta Lagoon by way of Galo and Savietula and, as a result, introduce new fish varieties into the lagoon. That has not happened in the last thirty-five years or so and nothing is being done to reverse this.
I spent 15 years living by the Keta Lagoon, first in Keta itself, Anyako and Anloga in1957.
At Anyako, my grand-aunt fried over a dozen species of fish for sale in Accra. One room was dedicated to baskets of assorted fish right from the floor to the ceiling. I didn’t need permission to help myself with any that caught my fancy, but I never took undue advantage.
Personally, I went fishing for sport. After all, there was more than enough in my home to choose from, but I loved the water and seeing fish live in its own environment had its own therapeutic attraction for, and effect on, me. Today, the Keta Lagoon cannot boast of even a quarter of a dozen species.
Oh, how I miss those fishing trips. I loved the hook-and-line fishing since my grandparents did not permit me to go with the professionals for fear I might impede their work, according to them, was my precocious disposition.
I was also fascinated with drag-line fishing. Two people would drag a twine 20 or 30 metres between them on the bed of shallow water. Others waded in behind the twine and, as the fish ducked flat under the twine and embedded in the sand, sunlight exposed their shiny bodies and were quickly picked up. Today, it is no fun trying to fish in this once life-sustaining environment.
The Volta River Authority (VRA) cannot be bothered by the silting of the Volta River. I sighted a letter written by Hon. Ken Dzirasah, a former Member of Parliament for South Tongu and Deputy Speaker to the VRA to address the issue and the effect on the economy of the area. Nothing seems to be done about this.
Lake Bosumtwi is also losing its fish stock. It seems the Ministry of Fisheries is only interested in revenue from licensing fishing companies operating in the oceanic maritime zones. What about inland fishing? Is the Ministry following the provisions in the Fisheries Act to the letter?
Meanwhile, fish constitutes the greatest source of Ghanaians’ protein needs, yet we have leaders over the years who have not taken the fishery sector seriously. Prized fishes are spawned and carried by the Benguela currents along the Gulf of Guinea all the way to the West and North Atlantic. Why we do not take advantage to maximize our harvest of these fishes beats my mind.
State intervention with the supply of what is known as pre-mixed fuel is even undermined by state officials who take bribes in the supply chain or divert the fuel to other areas.
The fight against pollution of our water bodies must be relentless and offenders severely punished. Not only do we need fish for consumption, we need water for our very existence as a people.
We must be worried when the very people whose duty it is to ensure our lives are assured are the ones alleged to be involved in mining activities that pollute the environment and water bodies. Only God knows what future we bequeath to our children and their children.
Post Script: I take this opportunity to wish my dear readers Merry Christmas and Happy 2023. I appreciate the mails you send.
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By Dr. Akofa K. Segbefia