Ghana: Fight ‘galamsey’ at high sea!

15th September 2021

On the flip side of the fight against illegal mining, also known as “Galamsey”, is the twin problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

These two swords of Damocleshung over our necks: the galamsey, which is prominent onshore, and the IUUa form of “gather-and-sell” (galamsey)that is being nicodemously carried out onshore by foreign vessels in active connivance with local vessels.

Chinese vesselsare reportedly leading in the transshipment, known in the local parlance as Saiko-an illegal fishing trade on the high seas.

  • The big industrial trawlers engage in a form of informal trade system where the unwanted catches are exchanged in the high seas for food, fruit and livestock brought by the canoes.

The industrial trawlers, largely from China, target fish specifically for the Saiko trade, which involves small pelagic species such as sardinella, mackerel, shrimp, sea-bream and yellow croaker, as well as tuna that are in high demand for local consumption.

These illegal catches include large quantities of juvenile fish which are frozen in blocks and transshipped at sea to specifically-adapted Saiko canoes, unloaded in ports for sale along the coast and at inland markets, according to a study“The problem with ‘Saiko,’ an ecological and human catastrophe”,  by Far Dwuma Nkodo carried out under the Securing Sustainable Fisheries project.

In paper on “The cost of illicit trade in West Africa marine resources”, Professor Rashid Sumaila of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit (Global Fisheries Cluster), of the University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada stressed the need to “pull resources, both at regional and continental levels, to tackle illegal and unreported fishing, especially those that fuel illicit trade.”

“In some, we need national, regional and continental level leadership to ensure Africa’s rich natural resources benefit people living in Africa,” Professor Sumaila postulated.

He estimated that Ghana annually loses $46.1 million in net revenue due to illicit fish trade estimated at 97,000 tonnes.

Saiko is illegal in Ghana, attracting a fine between $100,000 and $2m where the juvenile fishes are traded or use of prohibited fishing gear.

But are the laws enforceable? How deterrent have the laws been over the years?

“The sanctions imposed by Ghana on vessels engaging in or supporting IUU fishing activities are not effective and not an adequate deterrent,” the EU Commission said in the “yellow card” to Ghana.

The fisheries industry in Ghana employs about 2.4 million people, representing 10 per cent of the population, generating over $1 billion in revenue annually.

It accounts for 4.5 per cent of Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product, providing 60 per cent of animal protein consumed in Ghana.

However, the Saiko menace and related IUU militate against sustainable fisheries management, putting the country under the ‘yellow card list’ by the European Commission, the world’s biggest importer of fisheries products.

The Commission, which is leading the fight against IUU fishing worldwide, has issued a warning of a “Yellow card” to Ghana that it risks being identified as non-cooperating country in the fight against Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fishing, basing its warning on claims of “Ghana’s inability to comply with its duties under international law as flag, port, coastal or market State.”

The Commissioner of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission, Virginijus Sinkevicius, in a statement dated June 2, 2021, sighted by the Ghanaian Times, said “The Commission stands for zero tolerance for IUU fishing. Ghana plays an important role in fisheries governance in West Africa. Therefore, we stand ready to work with Ghana to address the threats IUU fishing poses to the sustainability of fish stocks, coastal communities, food security and the profits of those fishermen and women who follow the rules. Sustainable fisheries is key to better ocean governance.”

Under the unenviable “yellow card” tag, Ghana is expected to take necessary measures to fight the IUU(“the high sea galamsey”)-as part of its international obligations.

The EU Commission has identified shortcomings of Ghana as transshipments at sea of large quantities of under-sized juvenile pelagic species between industrial trawl vessels and canoes in Ghanaian waters; deficiencies in the monitoring, control and surveillance of the fleet; and a legal framework that is not aligned with relevant international obligations Ghana has signed up to.

The global annual value of IUU fishing is estimated at 10-20 billion Euros. Between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally every year, representing at least 15 per cent of world catch.

The EU’s “IUU Regulations” which came into force in 2010 have as one of the cardinal pillars as catch certification scheme that ensures that “only legally-caught fisheries products can access the European market.”

Since November 2012, the Commission had engaged in formal dialogues with 27 thirdworld countries and warned them to take effective action to fight IUU.

According to it, “Only a few countries have not shown the necessary commitment to reform until now.”

The regulations also provides  for “specific dialogue mechanisms with the countries that are not complying with their obligations as flag, coastal, port and market State under international law. Meanwhile, failure to cooperate with framework of the dialogue can lead to an identification of the country as a so-called red card.”

The dialogues are based on cooperation and support to countries, and are an important step in tackling IUU fishing, with sanctions, including trade prohibitions, being only a last resort.

Under the European Green Deal and in pursuant of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for conservation and sustainable use of oceans, sea and marine resources, the Commission has committed to a zero-tolerance approach to IUU fishing.

The fight against IUU is an important aspect of the EU Biodiversity Strategy objective to protect the marine environment. The Strategy for Africa highlights the fight against IUU fishing as one of the key issues to address with African partners.

The yellow card offers Ghana the opportunity to rectify the situation within a reasonable time to restore its international image,and enjoy the benefits of sustainable fisheries management, as the estimated annual loss of $46.1 million in net revenue due to illicit fish trade estimated at 97,000 tonnes, will be reversed.

Indeed, Ghana had already received a “yellow card” in November 2013, which was then lifted in October 2015, after the country addressed the shortcomings.

Sliding back is not good for our image, given the fact that Ghana Co-Chairs the UN Group of Eminent Persons tasked to assist in the campaign to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Forewarned is forearmed;we must avoid the red card and seen to be taking the ‘galamsey fight’to the high seas, where the worse is happening, win the battle and get our name removedfrom the yellow card list.

By Salifu Abdul-Rahaman


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