Despite an extended government ban on illegal mining and deployment of a joint taskforce to curb the menace, galamsey activities among communities on the River Pra are still prevalent and slowing down efforts to help regain Ghana’s depleting fish stocks.
David Koomson, the Shama District Co-Management Committee Chairman said: “As for the galamsey issue, I don’t know whether the taskforce comes here; but I can confirm they are doing it here along the Pra River, from Obuasi all the way to Shama you see them doing it.
“I am aware the DCE, District Director and Planning officer went through these communities to see some of the machines used in galamsey activities, and so if the taskforce is truly here it should come to our aid.”
A visit to communities along the Pra Estuary, including Anlo Beach and Shama Apo in the Shama district of the Western Region, showed the heavily-polluted and brown-coloured muddy waters of the River Pra at its point of intersection with the sea.
The two communities in this area currently host mangrove restoration and woodlot plantation projects, under the Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (UASID). The project is implemented with support from local NGOs, Friends of the Nation (FON) and the Central and Western Fishmongers Improvement Association (CEWEFIA).
Under the SFMP, community members together with representatives from the district assembly have formed a co-management committee to aid governance of fishing practices in the area. Previously, residents of Anlo Beach – a migrant community in the Shama district – had been suffering from the effects of overharvesting mangroves and practice of illegal fishing methods. The mangrove ecological area serves as a breeding ground for various fish species, and as such when overly-harvested does not attract fish into the area to breed. The result is a heavy drop in the volume of fish that is harvested in this area, and it is greatly affecting livelihoods.
For this reason, the SFMP started a restoration project to replant mangroves in a bid to safeguard some of these wetlands. The project has been fairly successful with the formation of a local co-management committee to regulate the operations of community members with regard to fishing practices, and also growing woodlots to offer alternate sources of wood for fish processing.
However, galamsey activities threaten to stall the progress made so far. Toxic chemicals used by galamsey operators pollute the River Pra, making it harmful for fish that travel from marine areas to the wetlands to lay eggs.
David Koomson disclosed that the galamsey workers normally hide behind the pretence of sand-winning to engage in the illegal activity.
“The galamsey is led by the Chinese people – with the help of the community members because they are getting something out of it. If you go to Nomda, a community between Atwereboanda and Supon Dunkwa, they are there. They are doing it in the form of sand-winning to cover up the illegal mining activity,” he lamented.
He said the galamsey operators are well-armed and could launch an attack if the community made an attempt to confront them.
“You can’t engage them. You have to use force; and if you try, they will kill you. At Nomda, you can see many of the Cheng Fen machines they use in excavation. I am the Pra estuary co-management committee chairman, so I’ve been there several times. There’s no police, nothing. And whenever they see you, they point guns at you,” Mr. Koomson bemoaned.
He called on the government joint taskforce against galamsey, Operation Vanguard, to come to their aid as illegal mining activities are threatening their livelihoods.
Meanwhile, government says it is ready to roll out the second phase of the fight against galamsey – the Multilateral Mining Integrated Project (MMIP), estimated to cost the country about US$100million.
Dr. Isaac Karikari, Coordinator of the MMIP, says the government taskforce approach alone isn’t enough to end the menace, and that it needs more concerted effort in eradicating the illegal activity.
The MMIP will include land reclamation, creation of alternative livelihoods for communities involved in illegal mining, dredging of affected rivers, and a review of the legal framework with regard to licencing.
Growth in the fisheries sector has declined over the years from 5.7% in 2016 and falling to to 3.5% in 2017.
The country is estimated to import close to 60% of fish mainly from Europe and Asia to meet an annual demand of about 1million metric tonnes.
The sector employs 2million people along the entire value chain, and therefore a decline in growth has a direct effect on employment especially in fishing communities.