Last year, Ghana imported some US$311 million worth of fish for local consumption by households and industry. This was the second highest level of fish importation this decade.
For a country whose entire southern boundary comprises shoreline and thus territorial sea water, and which also has extensive inland waterways and bodies – all of which are almost entirely unpolluted – this is disappointing. Ghana is supposed to be self-sufficient in fish production as well as being a major exporter.
To be sure, Ghana has spent considerable capital on increasing its fish production and storage capacity over the past two decades, from both public and private sector sources. Indeed, it is instructive that Ghana’s increasing importation is not the result of insufficient production capacity – rather it is caused by too much capacity which has resulted in over-fishing which in turn has depleted the country’s fish stock. Simply put Ghana has been engaged in too much fishing in recent years, at levels which the fish stock cannot sustain.
At the risk of appearing xenophobic, this newspaper asserts that this problem has been caused primarily by large scale foreign owned fishing enterprises, especially Chinese enterprises that have been notorious for employing “pair trawling” a strategy in which fish are caught between two fishing trawlers coming at them from either side. It is instructive that this strategy has long been identified as representing a danger to the sustainability of Ghana’s fish stock and government has taken policy steps towards curbing it. Curiously however such directives have been largely ignored by large foreign fishing operations.
Similarly, the two-month closed season for fishing, introduced by government to enable the fish stock to replenish itself has been largely ignored by foreign fishing enterprises as well.
The sheer impunity of all this – which suggests collusion between such enterprises and Ghana’s security services charged with policing our territorial waters – is as worrying as the results.
We are aware that much of the fish caught under these circumstances are ultimately exported. But we are forced to wonder whether, having disobeyed Ghana’s laws in the actual catching of the fish, these enterprises obey the accompanying fiscal laws relating to repatriation of foreign exchange earned and tax obligations to the state.
There is the urgent need to enforce regulations relating to large scale commercial fishing in Ghana, as carried out by indigenes and foreigners alike. We are most particular about the transgressions of the foreign enterprises because we are acutely aware that they are the ones causing the most damage to our fish stock and they are getting away with it because of collusion by the very state institutions who are supposed to curb them.
But at a time when the national currency is depreciating rapidly due to inadequate supply of foreign exchange, we wonder why Ghana should continue paying the price for those transgressions in the form of increased fish imports, even as the transgressors continue to make away with the little fish still available, without meeting their fiscal obligations to this country.