Nii Kai Okaishi, Jamestown Chief Fisherman, has revealed that the country’s fishing industry is collapsing as a result of the adaptation of illegal fishing methods by foreign Chinese trawlers and the massive political interference with the distribution and sale of premix fuel at the various landing beaches across the country.
According to him, the effect of these unfortunate incidences has compelled most fishermen to either adopt some of the illegal fishing methods to survive the system or sell off their canoes and nets.
Speaking exclusively to this paper in Accra yesterday, Nii Okaishi noted that, unlike former years when canoe fishermen make bumper catch anytime they go to sea, the situation nowadays have changed where even some canoe fishermen would embark on a one or two weeks’ fishing expedition only to return to shore with little or at times nothing at all.
This sad development, the chief fisherman, said has brought about a lot of hardship on the fisher-folk, sometimes forcing majority of them to abandon the good age old profession.
“Sometime ago when we were young, fishermen can go to sea or can go to fishing maybe twice or thrice a week and in all they will bring back fish to the shore, but now for maybe a month we’ll be going to sea and we are using premix fuel that’s expensive, So it seem they are in a hardship with some of them trying to get out of business. There was a time I was told some people try to sell their canoes and other items to move into other profitable businesses,” he stated.
The Jamestown chief fisherman blamed the diminishing fortunes of the fishing industry in the country to illegal fishing methods carried out by fishing trawlers mainly operated by Chinese nationals and some local fishermen.
He mentioned chemical fishing, light fishing and the use of unapproved nets as three major practices used by these fishing trawlers, together with their local counterparts, to engage in these illegal activities.
The foreign trawlers are also said to conduct their illegal fishing activities in waters reserved exclusive to the fisher-folk and this has also resulted in not only a low catch for the canoe fishermen whenever they go fishing but also a market disadvantage since most of the foreign trawlers sell their catch in cartons on the open market thus having a pricing advantage over the local fishermen who trade their fish on the same market.
“In the olden days the fishing trawlers job is to fish for tuna and other big fishes but now they are fishing on smaller fishes that used to come down for the canoe fishermen to fish on. So the local canoe fisher-folk have also learnt some of the bad practices from the big trawlers and they are also using it to catch fish! These have brought the fishing business to a massive decline,” he added.
Although the attention of officials at the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture have been draw to these challenges faced by the local fishermen in their respective locations, according to Nii Okaishi, no improvement has been seen within the industry.
“We have been holding meetings with even the previous minister, together with their directors at the Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministry. So they are in the know. We have even complained to them about the activities of the foreign trawlers but nothing has been done about it. Go to the cold store over there you will see cartons of fish being sold to the women, all these fishes were supposed to be sold by the canoe fishermen and not the trawlers,” he stressed.
He bemoaned political inference which has characterized the formation of the Landing Beach Committees (LBC) set up to regulate the equal distribution of premix fuel to fishermen not only at Jamestown but at other landing beaches along the country’s coast.
“What has happened now is that when the new government came into office some party activists thought their party is now in power so they took over most of the premix fuel stations and that also happened here in Jamestown,” he said.
These political activists, he said, have reconstituted their own Landing Beach Committees without the inclusion of some key stakeholders stipulated by the fisheries regulation when it comes to the formation of a committee to supervise the activities of premix fuel.
The chief fisherman of Jamestown, who is formerly a member of the Jamestown Landing Beach Committee for the past four years, currently does not have his name in the committee’s list since the NPP government took over the reins of government.
“What happens when the committee’s activity is taken over by political activists is that they then hijack the fuel distribution at the landing beaches and sell to the middlemen or hoard before selling the little left. The middlemen after getting the premix fuel at the approved price re-sell to the fishermen at exorbitant prices. They also hoard it to create artificial shortages in order to sell at higher prices,” Nii Okaishi.
He however noted the swift intervention of the current Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture to address the problem by insisting and trying to make sure that the right thing is done for the betterment of the fishermen.
“We once met the minister and she told us that she has heard that some of the committees formed were not done properly and that she has no idea about that. So she charged the chairman of Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council to, at least, go find out if there are some irregularities at some of the Landing Sites with the formation of these committees and to ensure also that the right thing is done,” he said.