BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Africa
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Ghana's fishermen battle with pirates
Boats in Elmina
Elmina relies on the fishing industry
By Penny Dale in Elmina, Ghana

Abeeku Osei leaves nothing to chance.

Like other Fante fishermen in the bustling port of Elmina, 125km west of Ghana's capital Accra, he makes regular visits to the shrine to ask for good fortune and protection before setting out to sea in his dug-out canoe.

Since the foreign boats arrived, we've really struggled

Abeeku Osei
Nowadays, 45-year-old Osei and his crew have to travel further afield in search of shoals of fish that were once plentiful closer to shore. But braving the Atlantic's unpredictable waters does not always result in bigger catches.

Like other West African fishing communities, Ghana's small-scale fishermen find themselves having to compete with pirate ships and industrial trawlers for ever-dwindling stocks of fish.

Already poor communities, with little viable alternatives, now find their livelihoods are increasingly threatened by these well-equipped, larger vessels.

International competition

Osei blames the foreign boats for dwindling catches of smaller and smaller fish: "Since the foreign boats arrived, we've really struggled.

Fisherman repairing his nets
The fishermen cannot compete with the industrial trawlers
There are no longer so many fish, and the ones you do catch are very small, too small really but we still sell and eat them. Otherwise we'd go hungry and have no money."

He adds: "The days when we could go out in the boat at dawn knowing that we' d return by early afternoon with a boat full of fish are gone. Now we often come back empty-handed."

In Ghana, about 1.5 million people, including fishermen, fishmongers and processors, depend on the sea. Fish is a valuable source of animal protein, accounting for 60% of the country's intake.

With the rapid depletion of stocks in European and Asian waters, trawlers from Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, former Soviet countries, Greece, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan have moved into more fertile waters off West Africa.

Some are there legally, others not.

Stocks dwindling

Over fishing and pirate fishing pose a significant threat to West African fish stocks, which now hang in the balance. The arrival in July of two high-tech surveillance boats will provide a much-needed boost to the
Samuel Manu
Samuel Manu: withdraw the trawlers
Ghanaian navy's meagre arsenal in what has so far been a losing battle against illegal fishing.

But fishermen and industry officials are also keen to see the government put an end to what they call a "glut" of trawlers operating in the country's waters.

Some 93 foreign-owned industrial trawlers, which export tuna, squid, sea bream and snappers to Europe and the Far East, were licensed by the previous Jerry Rawlings administration to fish in Ghana's waters.

Ghana's relatively high population growth, now about 3% per year, first put pressure on fish stocks. But industrial fishing over the past few years has escalated the problem of over-fishing, according to recent studies by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Committee for the Conservation of the Atlantic Tuna.

"If the scientists say Ghana's fish stocks cannot support major trawling, the answer is to withdraw what is a glut of trawlers," says Samuel Manu, senior fisheries officer in Elmina.

Government action

The new government of President John Kufuor has promised to tackle the environmental damage to Ghana's fishing resources. But it is unlikely that it will go very far.

The 93 vessels currently operating in the country are far more than the number required by law

Ghana's fisheries minister
Annual earnings from fish exports are close to $60m. The government has not, however, issued any new licences since coming to power in January.

It is also in the process of inspecting all industrial vessels, which have been required to re-register, possibly with an eye to revoking some licences.

The minister of state responsible for fisheries, Ishmael Ashietey, said: "The 93 vessels currently operating in the country are far more than the number required by law."

The fishermen in Elmina welcome government moves to control the number of vessels, which they claim also fish illegally.

Trawlers are not allowed to fish in waters shallower than 30 metres, but fishermen complain that they often operate in shallower waters closer to the shore, especially under the cover of darkness.

In the meantime, until effective action is taken Abeeku Osei will continue praying for good fortune.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

27 Sep 00 | Africa
West African fishing under threat
25 Apr 01 | Africa
EU abandons Morocco fish talks
15 Dec 00 | Europe
EU slashes fish catches
16 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ghana
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories