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CLOSED SEASONS— ESSENTIAL TOOL FOR REVERSING FISH STOCKS DEPLETION

By G.D. Zaney, Esq.

 

Generating more than US $1 billion in revenue annually and accounting for, at least, 4.5 % of Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the fisheries sector represents a key contributor to the national economy, according to the Fisheries Management Plan of Ghana (2015-2019)—a National Policy for the Management of the Marine Fisheries Sector.

 

Statistics from the Plan further indicate that the livelihood of an estimated 10% of the population of Ghana, representing about 2.5 million people, is derived from the fisheries sector while fish contributes 60% of animal protein consumed in Ghana.

 

According to a briefing fromthe United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (GSFMP), titled: Fisheries and Food Security, the fisheries sector also contributes 12% of the agricultural GDP.

 

Fisheries resources are classified as small pelagic species, large pelagic species, demersal species, deep sea species, molluscs and crustaceans.In Ghana small pelagic fishery is seasonal with the bumper season peaking in August.

 

There are also and tuna and tuna-like fish species which form part of a larger tuna community that occur in the entire east Atlantic Ocean, with large scale migration over long distances, often staying outside the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of coastal states.

 

Going by available scientific evidence, there has been a steady fall in stock levels of fish in Ghana’s marine waters.

 

Small pelagic fishery in Ghana’s waters is seasonal with bumper harvesting season peaking in August.

 

However, based on recent stock assessment, the small pelagic stocks, have been, currently, categorized as overfished and almost at the  point of depletion, leading to a declinein pelagic fishery landings to the lowest level in the last 30 years, with annual bumper season landings dropping to the lowest level in 20 years.

 

The decline in fish stocks landing volumes, the USAID/SFMP report says, has resulted in an increase in Ghana’s fish trade deficit which increased in 2013 to US $319 million while fish imports swelled to US $373 million.

 

Consequently, poverty has become noticeable in fishing communities—with the incomes of canoe fishermen decreasing by 40%,over the last ten years, while US $ 50,000,000 is lost annually, due to poor management and overfishing, according to a World Bank report.

 

 

Attributable to the dying stock levels of fish In Ghana’s waters are several factors, such as excessive pressure on fish stocks, due toincreased vessel numbers, gears used, number of days at sea and vessel size.

 

The small-scale artisanal (canoe) fishery is an essential segment of the fisheries industry in Ghana and plays a key role in the economy by supporting livelihoods and food security—with about 80% of artisanal fish consumed locally and 80% of which local consumption is made up of small pelagic species (sardinella, mackerel and anchovies).

 

And, because access to the sea is open and without regulation, canoe numbers have increased, and the level of fishing effort has exceeded sustainability levels.

 

The experts have, therefore, warned that should the trend of overfishing continue, fish landings will continue to diminish, leading to stock depletion in Ghana’s waters by the year 2020.

 

The experts have, accordingly, recommended that the declining trend should not only be halted, but also reversed and that overfishing should be reduced by as much as 50% in both the industrial and artisanal fisheries sectors in order to rebuild the fish stock.

 

Rebuilding the fish stock requires a period of harvest prohibition of fish during a defined period to allow reproduction and recruitment.

 

This requires the implementation of a more comprehensive program of closure, referred to as the Closed Season.

 

Examples of successful Closed Seasons abound to guide the Government of Ghana, represented by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD) and the Fisheries Commission

 

In the United States of America spawning closures were used as management tool in almost all managed fisheries, while Philippines increased sardine production by as much as 90,000 metric tonnes or close to 30% in just one year of implementing a two-month closure.

 

Senegal is another example of a successful closure, where a four-month closure for fishing for octopus in 2017 during the spawning season yielded about 35% increase in just 3 years of implementation.

 

Guinea alsoimplemented for the first timea closed season in 2015 and the outcome was satisfactory while Morocco and Mauritania have been implementing closed seasons for octopus and small pelagics since 1999 with about 125% increase in landings and abundance of small pelagics.

 

Indeed, there are ongoing seasonal closures for industrial trawlers in Ghana (Nov.2016; Jan-Feb, 2017) and (Jan-Feb, 2018).

 

MoFAD has also inaugurated a 'Closed Season' Committee that will draw up a programme for the effective implementation of the August 2018 Closed Season.

 

Indeed, the objective of the Fisheries Management Plan of Ghana (2015-2019) is to reduce the excessive pressure on fish stocks; to ensure that fish stocks within the fisheries waters of Ghana are exploited within biologically acceptable levels;to ensure that the fisheries legislation is implemented to protect the nation's fish resources; to protect marine habitats and bio-diversity; to contribute to enhancing export opportunities and strengthening value addition; to strengthen participatory decision-making in fisheries management(co-management); and to meet Ghana's regional and international fisheries management obligations.

 

However, the USAID/GSFMP report titled: Fisheries and Food Security, notes that as a result of weak implementation, Ghana is yet to reverse the declining fish stock trends.

 

A successful or effective Closed Season should, therefore, cover all sectors of the fishing industry in order to be able to effectively monitor, control and enforce while a moratorium should be placed on new entrants and an end to open access.

 

There has also been the call for an additional fishing holiday while fishing gear restrictions (net dimensions and mesh size) should be strictly enforced.

 

Public awareness creation on the impact of  fish stock depletion and the role of stakeholders  have also been identified as critical to efforts at rebuilding stock levels.

 

And it is expected that the STWG projects  should lead to an increase in landings to 90,000 metric tons by 2030 estimated, at least,  to about GHC 270 million.

 

The writer is an officer of the Information Services Department.