The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD) has issued a directive to industrial trawlers to ensure that they use appropriate fishing nets to avoid catching disproportionate amounts of juvenile and small pelagic fish.
Small pelagic fishing is the mainstay of artisanal fishers, with around 2.7 million Ghanaians depending on it for their income and food security.
The ministry’s announcement was informed by a 2019 Environmental Justice Foundation report on fishing gear, which found that a commonly used trawler net with a vertical opening of almost 40 meters catches large amounts pelagic and semi-pelagic fish.
According to the report: “Each tow brought in a wide range of fish species, but the majority caught during the audit were pelagic and semi-pelagic fish.” Although there is an allowance for bycatch (estimated at 10-15 percent), trawlers are not allowed to target these fish.
This raises urgent questions about why such quantities of non-target species are landed in ports; and what checks, if any, are carried out to ensure that the permitted proportion of bycatch is respected.
The report also casts doubt on the effectiveness of the current observer system, given that this is happening against the backdrop of widespread alleged illegal fishing.
Along with this, the report also noted a lack of knowledge in key institutions: citing the fact that few Fisheries Commission staff were able to tell the difference between the different types of nets.
It also revealed that many key vessel documents were not in English, creating a major impediment to enforcement of the Fisheries Act 2002, as officers from the Fisheries Commission and the Fisheries Unit Fisheries Enforcement have not been able to determine whether the information is “true, complete and correct”. ”.
Meanwhile, the Fisheries Regulations 2010 clearly state that the use of nets with a stretched diagonal length of less than 50mm in marine waters or a river system, or a fixed monofilament net whose mesh size is less at 75 mm is prohibited.
In a move applauded by the EJF, the organization said the directive must be strictly adhered to and trawlers who break the regulations must be penalised. The organization has also advocated for broad reform, including beneficial ownership disclosure in the industry.
“It is vital to rigorously enforce these requirements and apply punitive sanctions if they are not met,” says EJF.
Steve Trent, CEO and Founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation, said: “We support these reforms by the ministry and encourage their rigorous implementation as well as deterrent penalties for those who break the law – with crimes and punishments made public”.