More than 75% of fisher folks are likely to lose their livelihoods between now and the next five years as oil and gas activities spread on the coastal waters of Ghana.
Standing on the beautiful sandy beach of Atuabo, the surroundings look clean with green vegetation, the cloud looks foggy as regards to the powerful nature of the sea breeze. On the streets of Atuabo, I can see the idle youth playing cards while others sell coconut to a group of Journalists who were visiting the town to learn on the gas project in the area.
The beach looked calm with some fishermen sailing to shore. At the right from the chief’s palace, the fishmongers gather themselves in preparation to buy some fish from the sailors. The scene looks natural and beautiful. Interestingly three kilometers on my left from the chief’s palace, stands a threat to everybody in Atuabo. The Gas Project and the associated pipelines in Atuabo and Anochie pose a threat to fishermen, famers’ residents in the area. It poses a threat to their livelihoods.
The gas pipelines are being laid directly from the Atuabo Gas plant by CENOPEC OF China through the sea to connect to the Floating Production and Storage Offload vessel (FPSO) to transport natural gas onshore for processing. The completion of the project and commencement of natural gas delivery is likely to lead the indefinite suspension of fishing activities in towns like Atuabo Anochie, Asiamah, Axim, Cape three points, princess town and surrounding communities.
Technical experts have cautioned that the heat that is associated with the transportation of the gas plant through the pipeline is capable f destroying every canoe or vessel that sails within the production area or crosses the pipeline and based on that fishermen will be restricted from the area. Already fishermen and other fishing vessels are not allowed to sail close to the Jubilee Field.
The deputy director in charge of oil and gas at the Environmental Protection Agency,(EPA) Kodjo Agbonome Esinam in a presentation recently with Journalists in Takoradi said the survival of the fishermen in Ghana is very difficult especially with the emergence of the huge vessels in Ghana coupled with the incessant oil and gas activities which is hampering their activities. He said the fishing industry in Ghana started declining sharp in the late 1990s and the measures put in place so far are not yielding good results.
The Deputy Director at the Fisheries Commission has said the Commission has observed with grave concern, a sharp decline in fish production and trade in the country. Madam Doris Yeboah said that Ghana’s aquatic activities have been abused for far too long, and it was high time pragmatic measures were put in place to streamline the operations of fishermen.
Madam Yeboah in an interview disclosed that the Fisheries Commission had established a five-year Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Plan to help solve the multiple challenges facing the sector, and take advantage of opportunities.
She expressed worry that fishing in the coastal areas was hampered by lack of resources and erratic supply of pre-mix fuel. She recounted instances where most fishermen had incurred debts due to lack of training. As part of the plan, the Commission would institute a licensing scheme to regulate fishing activities and help re-generate the country’s aquatic atmosphere.
“At the moment we are not giving fishes the chance to re-produce, fishermen are always mounting pressure on them and always catching and catching, which is not a good practice and must be checked,” she stated. She added that government through the plan, would create an alternative livelihood programme for fishermen who would be affected during the period to enter into other ventures either than fishing. The project is expected help conserve the country’s aquatic system and curb illegal fishing practices such as light fishing.
According to records available at the Fisheries Commission, the fisheries sector of Ghana contributes 4.5% to GDP, employs 10% of Ghanaians directly and indirectly, provides over 65% to animal protein and in fiscal terms contributes $1billion annually.
The sector is divided into marine and inland (fresh) water, with the marine coastal stretch from Half Asini in the Western Region to Aflao in the Volta Region, with over 300 landing beaches and the inland sector mostly constituted of the Volta Lake and other riverine in Ghana.
In the marine sector, there are the Industrial (Trawl and Tuna), Semi-Industrial (inshore) and Marine Artisanal (canoe) whiles the inland sector has mostly artisanal fishing interest with a growing aqua-culture mostly in the Volta Lake.
The fisheries sector is well capitalized with huge investments, for instance with an estimated 12, 000 canoes, at a cost of GhS50,000 and over 200 inshore vessels with an estimated cost of GhS30,000 huge investments in the industrial trawl and tune sectors, one will gape in awe at the levels of investment that has been made in the marine fisheries sector.
Ghana fisheries sector is regulated by laws both local and international aimed at sustainable exploitation of the resource which is a shared resource due to the fact that movement of fish is not restricted to artificial boundaries of countries. Human activities within the marine environment can have pervasive impact on the waters outside the supposed marine territories of the country where the activity takes place. A case in point is the algae bloom that continually creates problems of fishermen in the western Region of Ghana, though the algae bloom is believed to be as a result of industrial activity in La Cote d’voire.
Some of the international laws and policies that guide the marine activities in the world include the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) which also defines marine economic territories and FAO code of responsible fisheries. Beyond the UN itself FAO there is also the International Maritime Organization, International Convention on the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) and many regional and sub-regional bodies working concertedly to protect, the marine environment and the living and non-living things within.
In Ghana, the constitution in article 269 made fisheries a natural resource, in consonance with international practice and established the Fisheries Commission. By the definition of the fisheries as natural resource, fisheries is therefore entrusted in the Presidency and its exploitation, management and protection becomes the responsibility of H.E the President of the Republic through his appointed agents.
Article 269 further mandates parliament to enact a law to establish the functioning structures of the Commission, a law which was enacted in 2002, Act 625 with regulation, Fisheries Regulation 2010 (LI 1968) was passed by parliament in August 2010 and became effective on 3rd August 2010. As part of the collection of the regulatory systems in the industry, the fisheries and aquaculture policy was initiated by the previous government and finalized by the current government.
In compliance to the requirement of the Act 625, the fisheries and aqua-cultural development plan was also developed and consulted on with all major stakeholders by this government and a International Development Agency (IDA) and World Bank facility of US$53.8million had been approved by parliament to implement the 5yrs project.
All this efforts and institutional development is aimed just at ensuring the sustainable exploitation of Ghana’s fisheries resources which must not by the stretch of any imagination be subjected to any form of destruction.