In some coastal regions of Ghana, fishermen are battling the devastating effects of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and one of the main issues contributing to that is the use of wrong nets by these fishermen.
Knowingly or unknowingly, fishermen use these nets with blatant disregard for fishing regulations. The monofilament net is one of the illegal fishing nets commonly used in Ghana. It is a type of fishing net made from a single strand of material – mostly a synthetic material like nylon – that is smooth, round shaped and has a strength that can withstand maximum stress while being stretched.
In Ghana, the use of monofilament nets in fishing is illegal for several reasons. The nets are known to cause significant damage to marine ecosystems, including open ocean, the deep-sea ocean and seafloor habitats.
The fine mesh size of these nets allows for the capture of not only target species but also a wide range of non-target species, including juvenile fishes usually about the size of a human finger and other marine organisms. This results in overfishing and disrupts the balance of the ecosystem.
During fishing at sea, these nets are often discarded or lost and the synthetic material used to make these nets takes a long time to degrade or not degrade, causing long-term environmental harm, contributing to marine pollution and depleting the country's fish stock.
With the use and importation of theses nets being one of the main issues contributing to IUU fishing in Ghana, the repercussions of such practices are severe, impacting not only the sustainability of fish stocks but also the fishermen's ability to support their families due to the depletion.
The fishermen, at the forefront of this crisis, express their frustration and disappointment with the lack of education and guidance from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development. Some claim they have never been sensitized about what is legal or illegal when it comes to fishing practices. Their knowledge about fishing is limited to what has been handed down from their parents and grandfathers, leaving them unaware of the intricacies of the law.
“We are not given any education or training by the Ministry. We rely on what our ancestors taught us. We use the nets that have been used for generations, without knowing if they are legal or not,' a seasoned fisherman at the Korle Gonno landing beach in the Greater Accra Region, Nii Commey, shares his grievances. His words reflect the frustration felt by many in the fishing community.
Another fisherman, Nana Kwabena Donkor, boldly points out that the government and the Ministry cannot simply pass laws without consulting those whose livelihoods are directly affected.
“They can't just sit in their offices and make decisions without involving us. We are the ones who suffer the consequences of their actions,” he posited.
SHOULD I BE BLAMED FOR BEING IGNORANT?
The Fisheries Act 2002 outlines the regulations regarding fishing practices in Ghana. It clearly prohibits the use of wrong nets, highlighting the importance of compliance in safeguarding fish stocks. However, this important legislation often remains a mystery to the fishermen who struggle to interpret its complex language.
Despite the challenges, the law says “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” meaning any fisherman unknowingly caught using the wrong nets will be punished by the law. Section 29 (2) of the Criminal Offenses Act, 1960 (Act 29) reinforces this sentiment.
Nevertheless, the fishermen argue that the responsibility lies not only with them but also with the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development to ban the importation of illegal fishing nets if they know that is a problem.
While the fishermen express their frustration and disappointment, it was important to hear from the other side, since it will be unfair not to give each side a fair explanation opportunity.
The Fisheries Commission explains that the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD) and the Fisheries Commission (FC) itself are involved in the importation of fishing nets in Ghana, although it is private sector led.
“The agency through the Integrated Custom Management System (ICUMS) recommend for approval the nets imported through our ports. The applications are vetted and any illegal net are not recommended for customs exemption,” they added.
On why some fishermen continue to use wrong nets despite existing regulations and effort to combat IUU they said “some of the nets are meant for the aquaculture sector but fishermen acquire and use them illegally but MoFAD/FC is enforcing the laws and anytime these fishermen are arrested, the nets are seized and destroyed and we will continue to enforce the laws.”
The Commission explains that Landing Beach Enforcement Committees are being established to assist the FEU to the fisheries Commission and the Ministry of Fisheries but their specific challenge is lack of logistics and presence in all the landing beaches.
It adds that the use of these unapproved nets is more of an attitudinal change than just replacing the nets. Writing about the story reminds me of how constant back-and-forth blame game can create these challenges and tensions.
HAVE WE FAILD AS THE FOURTH ESTATE?
What are we doing as the media, if the common Ghanaian does not know what has been written in the constitution and laws concerning what we ought to do and not do? The media play a vital role in disseminating information to the wider public and raising awareness about the detrimental effects of IUU fishing and the importance of responsible fishing practices. With a little push, the media can help foster a culture of compliance and accountability. We set the agenda; so, let us do that.
AFTER CAREFUL CONSIDERATION
As efforts are being made to tackle IUU fishing, it is crucial to address the issue of wrong fishing nets being imported into the country. The responsibility for ensuring the availability of legal fishing nets lies with the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development. A possible recommendation to address this issue is for the Ministry to take a more active role in importing and distributing legal fishing nets directly to the fishermen.
Alternatively, the Ministry could consider partnering private entities, not entity with expertise in managing fishing gear distribution. This would allow for more efficient and effective distribution processes, ensuring that fishermen have access to the right equipment, while also benefiting from their knowledge and resources.
Regardless of the response given and approach taken, it is imperative that the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, all stakeholders under them and the media actively educate the fishermen and the general public on the importance of sustainable fishing practices and the legal framework surrounding fishing activities to protect the future of Ghana's fishing industry.
By: Edith Debrah