Giving the Fish a Break
Gaining the support of fisherfolk for fish stock recovery in Ghana
Illegal fishing and inadequate management of Ghana’s fish industry over the years has led to depleted fish stocks, threatening fisherfolk’s livelihoods, their communities’ food security, and the ocean’s biodiversity. The sector has been brought to the verge of collapse.
To allow Ghana’s fisheries a time to replenish, in 2018 the government began enforcing a nationwide month-long fishery closure, coinciding with the time of year when the Atlantic’s small pelagic fish — sardines, mackerel, and anchovies — typically spawn.
These fish species, often referred to as “the people’s fish,” have been an affordable protein source for most Ghanaians, playing a crucial role in maintaining good nutrition and health. Maintaining a healthy fish supply is especially important at a time when food prices in Ghana have risen 30% over the last year.
However, the seasonal closure didn’t go over well when it was first announced by Ghana’s Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development. Coastal communities responded en masse with a boycott of the initiative. Fisherfolk clearly needed to be involved for the new policy to succeed.
“Nobody was prepared for the first closure in 2018,” said Nana Jojo Solomon, president of the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council, an organization that advocates for some 3 million people who depend on artisanal canoe fishing to make a living. “Fisherfolk did not have any alternative work lined up and could not suddenly stop fishing for a whole month. So we complained, and then we boycotted.”
Solomon and his organization have partnered with USAID since 2014 to improve the sustainability of fishery management. As its leader, Solomon is in a unique position to disseminate information to fisherfolk and to articulate the issues affecting canoe fishers to government leaders.
“Fisherfolk are born and bred on the beaches and all they know is fishing in canoes. They do not want to travel to the capital city of Accra,” he explained.
In 2017, USAID crafted Fisher-to-Fisher Dialogues, an innovative approach to engage fisherfolk to discuss fisheries issues and strengthen political will towards sustainable fisheries management. Through the dialogues, fisherfolk have learned fisheries best practices and raised their awareness about fishery management regulations being promoted by the government.
“The Fisher-to-Fisher engagements helped us to understand the state of our stocks and the science behind season closures,” said Togbui Seth Kedey, a canoe owner and chief fisherman from Ghana’s Volta Region.
The dialogue methodology also gives the fishing communities a platform to voice their opinions and concerns about how regulations are rolled out. The dialogues are proving that a grassroots approach can be effective, and if policy information is spread from the bottom-up, the chances for success are much higher.
Thanks to the dialogues, fishing communities are no longer caught by surprise by the seasonal closure each July.
“During the closures, we rest and mend our canoes and nets,” Kedey said. “I also work on my onion farm to earn some income. With closed seasons and measures to stop illegal fishing, I believe we can recover our fish stocks.”
Since 2014, USAID has supported the improved fishery policies and regulations, and helped to boost the ecological recovery and growth of fish stocks in small fishing villages and landing sites through the Feed the Future Ghana Fisheries Recovery Activity. Feed the Future is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.
Under sustainable fisheries management, which includes seasonal closures, Ghana can expect to see its fish stocks increase from 10,000 metric tons in 2017 to over 90,000 metric tons in 2030, valued at US$25 million, according to the Science and Technical Working Group created under USAID funded programming.
During the 2022 seasonal closure, the program carried out a canoe survey to register and license Ghana’s estimated 15,000 artisanal canoe fleet. A reliable canoe database helps the government determine the ecological carrying capacity of small pelagic fisheries and helps Ghana’s leaders develop strategies to regulate access to the fishery.
“Now we know we can use the same Fisher-to-Fisher Dialogues methodology to reach fisherfolk with awareness about overfishing, and why we should change our attitudes and behaviors to sustain an industry that might not always be reliable,” Solomon said.
“We can target the youth and push them towards additional livelihoods, and reduce the stress on the marine capture fishery.”
About the Author
Perfectual Labik is the communications specialist on the Feed The Future Ghana Fisheries Recovery Activity implemented by Tetra Tech, and Nico Parkinson is a communications specialist with TetraTech ARD who writes about conservation, environment, and land tenure issues.