“The sea is our life; it has been handed over to us by our ancestors. We live on its produce and make a living from it as well,” a thirty-four-old lobster picker and fish monger, Bernice Bebley, says.
Bernice’s family lives within the Kokrobite community located a few miles away from the Densu estuary where her family, like other community members, ply their trade of fishing and picking of oysters.
“I was born here and I grew up seeing my father and mother doing this business to take care of us. So now, I also do this as a living to take care of my family,” she adds.
Bernice, however, states things have changed over the years with the landing of fish after fishermen expedition on the sea and processing of the catch before it gets to the last consumer.
“They come with very little fish and their sizes are also small, so we are not able to make any profit from their sale. We are managing with what we have but it is not enough,” Bernice indicates.
She says lack of proper processing facility and poor storage area also contribute to the poor socio-economic impact of fishing on fishermen and fishmongers.
“When they don’t come with a big catch we complain but when they do, we have a big problem because we do not have a proper place to store the fish or oyster and also process them for the market,” she reveals.
Depleting Fish Stock
Data from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) shows Ghana’s fisheries sector generates over $1 billionin revenue each year and contributes significantly to national gross domestic product, which a decade and half ago stood at 4.5 percent.
The sector is not only important to fishermen and fishmongers; fishing also plays a critical role in costal economies, food security and nutrition and costal social stability.
The USAID data states that fish contributes over 60 percent of total protein intake nationally, especially for pregnant women and developing children, and is particularly important for those most vulnerable to food insecurity.
The US agency, however, highlights that landing of these fishes have decreased sharply in the last two decades with current landing between less than 10 to 14 percent of the maximum realised in 1997.
“Weak governance, input subsidies and an open access fish regime with no restrictions to entry all contribute to the severe over-fishing and an annual increase in the number of artisanal boats chasing fewer and fewer fish.
Loss of this stock will have huge economic, social and human development impacts with particularly strong negative impacts on the nutritional status of women and children,” the document indicates.
James Lykos, Acting Director, Economic Growth office USAID, Ghana, believes fisheries management is not only vital for Ghana but for the entire world.
Explaining further in the words of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mr Lykos observes that in Africa and around the world, fisheries play a crucial role in supporting livelihoods, providing employment and driving social and economic development.
“However, the future of the world’s fisheries is seriously threatened and this global challenge is far greater than any country can handle on its own.
This means that everyone, including youth, women and men traditional leaders, stakeholders, government officials universities must work together to solve Ghana’s marine challenges,” Mr Lykos points out.
He, therefore, urged the Ministry of Fisheries to implement the closed season as proposed in the National Fisheries Management Plan.
“The closed season in combination with other management practices will result in increased landing by 90,000 metric tons by 2030. It will go a long way towards securing the livelihoods of the over 2 million people that are involved in the sector,” he states.
It is in line with this that the USAID launched the five-year initiative to transform the artisanal fisheries and rebuild stock in a sustainable way alone the coastal belt of the country called the USAID/Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP).
The USAID/Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP) has a national scope of the entire marine coastline of Ghana and support value chains that extend to the north of the country, and is aimed at improving food and nutritional security, economic growth and poverty reduction.
Sustainable Fishers Management Project (SFMP) working with the Ministry of Fisheries & Aquaculture Development and the Fisheries Commission to rebuild fish stocks and catches through the adaptation of responsible fishing practice focuses on sustaining small pelagic fish along the entire coastline, as well as demersal fisheries and essential mangrove fish habitat in the Western and Greater Accra Regions.
So far, 3, 286 men and women in the local fishing industry have directly benefited from the project in terms of training and provision of equipment to facilitate sustainable landing of fish and processing for markets.
Over 100,000 people are expected to benefit from the project and through the rebuilding of stock, fish catch is estimated to increase in thousands of metric tons.
Already, the USAID/Ghana SFMP is yielding some positive results for beneficiaries.
An example is the implementation of the closed season on oysters picking by the Densu Oyster Pickers Association, after the SFMP trained them in oyster production and processing.
The association is the first local group to take control of manging their resources by declaring, implanting and monitoring the results of a five-month closed season in its oyster growing areas on the Densu estuary.
Bernice testifies of the benefits the implementation of the closed season has had on the harvesting of oysters.
“Since the project started two years, ago we have seen a lot of change in the fish and oyster we catch. We have been taught how to handle the fish on sea and when they get to the land,” Bernice adds.
“The work is going on well and the price has also increased because of the change in our behaviour after the training. We use to sell five or six at GH50p but now we sell as high as GH¢2 we get a lot of profit and use some to take care of our children’s education,” she mentions.
DAA Fisheries Training Centre
The USAID/ Ghana SFMP funded the Development Action Association (DAA) to build a fisheries training centre in the Kokrobite community.
The project which the fishmongers provided land for and funded by the SFMP was, a few days ago, unveiled with the aim of assisting fishmongers, traders and processors to practise best practices at every level.
The Centre Manager for the DAA Fisheries Centre, Emilia Nortey, says the DAA has already developed modules for training that will increase skills among small scale processors to improve fish quality relative to food safety and security and value addition through hygienic packaging.
The modules, she indicates, are based on fish hygiene, handling and preservation techniques developed by the Fisheries Commission and Ghana Standards Authority, including improved fish smoking technology based on the new ‘ahotor’ (comfort) oven for smoking fish.
“The centre will organise training sessions for the fish processing like the fisheries law, IUU fishing and what they should do at sea, business management, especially during the fishing season and savings,” she adds.
She observes that the centre will also be a module of best practice for processing fish with the introduction of new technologically-improved ovens like the ‘ahotor’ and the FTT oven.
Madam Nortey explained that the new ovens are more hygienic for the processors and healthy for the consumers as compared with the Chorkor smoker, which produces more smoke during fish processing.
“Fish processed using the Chorkor has high hydro carbons caused by the smoke which when consumed for a long time can compromise the health of consumers but the ‘ahotor’ has a fat collector and tender that prevents smoke and evenly distributes the heat for processing the fish,” she discloses.
Madam Nortey hints that economically and health wise, ‘ahotor’ prevents smoking and produces more healthy fish for markets.
She says the centre is looking at seeking accreditation with COVERT for proficiency one and two certification for the women to give them some form of formal training.
With the training from the USAID, the capacity of the DAA staff is now at the level where they are driving their own programmes and expanding their services to government and community across Ghana.
The Fisheries Commission and the FDA have also come out with class one certification given to fish processors using ‘ahotor’ to certify the quality of fish processed.
By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri