U-turn on Ghana's Fisheries Commission decision to allow tuna boats to use light fishing
May 22, 2020

U-turn on Ghana's Fisheries Commission decision to allow tuna boats to use light fishing

By EJF Staff

The Fisheries Commission has reversed a decision which would have allowed tuna vessels to use lights to attract fish after uproar from the canoe fishers, who are prohibited from using this fishing method. The decision to grant an exemption for tuna vessels is against Ghanaian law in the first place, says the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), and the fact that it was only rescinded after the canoe fishers voiced objections raises questions around the transparency fisheries decision-making.

In April, the Fisheries Commission granted an exemption to allow tuna vessels to engage in light fishing, following pressure from the Ghana Tuna Association. The vessels were permitted to use the method to catch bait in the waters off Saltpond, in Central region, and Keta, in Volta region. Tuna vessels use live bait fish, such as anchovies and sardinella, in their pole and line fishing operations.

However, in the wake of this decision, tensions grew with canoe fishers, who are not allowed to use this fishing practice. As well as being the staple catch of the canoe fishers, populations of fish such as sardinella – known as small pelagic fish – are under severe strain in Ghanaian waters. Landings of sardinella declined by approximately 80% between 1996 and 2016 and the UN FAO has recommended the complete closure of the fishery to prevent total collapse.

Ghana’s Navy, which is responsible for enforcement at sea, emphasised in a letter to the Fisheries Commission that light fishing is prohibited and expressed concerns that the exemption for tuna vessels could result in tensions between the Navy and fishing communities. On 8 May, the Navy proceeded to arrest two tuna vessels for light fishing in the waters off Keta, in spite of the exemption.

The decision to allow industrial vessels to use light – which makes fish easier to catch – has no basis in Ghanaian law and has come at a time when canoe fishers are already facing severe threats to their livelihoods and food security, says EJF.

In addition to light fishing, tuna vessels benefit from an exemption that allows them to fish for bait in the inshore exclusion zone, which is reserved for canoe fishers. Again, the details of this decision have not been published, nor is there a clear legal basis: Section 81 of the 2002 Fisheries Act prohibits industrial vessels from fishing inside the zone, except in limited circumstances which do not appear to include bait fishing.

The livelihoods of local fishers are already under threat from ‘saiko’ whereby trawlers licensed for bottom-dwelling fish illegally target species that local fishing communities rely on. This fish is transferred to smaller boats out at sea, before being landed and sold back to those same communities for profit.

Executive Director of EJF Steve Trent said: “The Fisheries Commission made the right choice in reversing the decision to allow light fishing by tuna vessels, but the case raises grave concerns. Why was the decision made in the first place without consultation of the affected fishing communities and without basis in law? Transparency and inclusiveness in fisheries in decision making is crucial to protect fish populations, livelihoods and food security in Ghana.”

Notes for editors

  • · The use of light as a method to aggregate fish is prohibited in Ghana’s waters, under Regulation 11(1) of the 2010 Fisheries Regulations, LI 1968.
  • · There are currently no management measuresin place to ensure sustainability of the bait fishery. This is concerning as bait species, such as sardinella and anchovy, are a crucial component of catches of local fishing communities, and for livelihoods and food security.
  • The two tuna vessels arrested on May 8 were: Marine 711 and Sea Plus 87.
  • · EJF is calling for greater transparency in fisheries management in Ghana and representation of small-scale fishers in decision-making processes. In collaboration with natural resource governance lawyers at the Taylor Crabbe Initiative, EJF has come up with a number of recommendationsfor transparent and inclusive decision-making in line with the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication. These measures include clarifyingaccess to the inshore exclusion zone reserved for small-scale fishers so that the rights of local communities are protected, and they know where they stand. The study also advises that the Fisheries Commission board should include representatives of women’s associations, small-scale fisher groups and NGOs working on fisheries. This will improve decision making by ensuring that all relevant opinions are heard.
  • · Tuna vessels operating in Ghana export their catches to markets in Europe and around the world. The EU is Ghana’s main market for tuna exports, with a trade value of over US$150 million per year.
  • · In 2013, Ghana received a yellow card warning from the European Commission for failing to address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in line with its obligations under international law. The yellow card warning severely impacted exports of tuna to the European Union, which in 2008 adopted a regulation to prevent seafood originating from IUU fishing from entering the EU market.