Over-fishing reducing catch, increasing import needs

• Ghana imports US$311m in seafood and fish products in 2018 • huge opportunities available in aquaculture

In 2018, Ghana imported an estimated US$ 311.4 million worth of seafood and fish products, resulting from overexploitation of the marine stocks in the country’s own territorial waters which is further expected to continue to limit domestic seafood production over the next few years, until domestic stocks replenishes.

This is making Ghana’s still small, but rapidly growing aquaculture industry more critical than ever.

This has been revealed in a recently released report by the Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN), a USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.

Estimates reveal that import levels reached US$290.1 million, US$349.4 million, US$297.5 million and US$311.4 million in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.

The report predicts that Ghana’s growing population – currently close to 30 million – and accelerating economic growth will push consumption further upwards.  Based on official production and trade data, the annual domestic consumption was approximately 775,000 metric tonnes (MT) in 2018.

However, the country imported an estimated 370,000 MT in 2018, with the common fish species imported including mackerel, sardines, and whiting/hake.

In addressing critical levels of overfishing, government has planned to impose closed seasons in 2019, after unsuccessful attempts to do so last year. Large scale fishing, mainly by foreigners – Chinese enterprises in particular – using trawlers are primarily responsible for the over exploitation of the domestic fish stock. Curiously, m cGhana’s maritime security agencies have failed to enforce the closed season on them despite the large size of their operations which forces them to operate in plain sight, thus raising allegations of collusion that are difficult to dismiss.    However, a small but rapidly expanding aquaculture sector is projected to be more promising in addressing supply challenges.

This notwithstanding, the report indicates that imports will continue to play a key role and account for an increasingly significant share of domestic consumption in the country. But the cedi’s sharp depreciation in recent months are making imports prohibitively expensive for consumers, giving local producers, especially fish farmers, potential enhanced price competitiveness.

Marine, inland (rivers, lakes and lagoons), and aquatic farm operations all play roles role in Ghana’s fisheries sector. However, marine production has stagnated in recent years, and available data suggests that inland capture production has decreased marginally. This too may be the result of earlier over-exploitation and its effect on available fish stocks.

The fishing industry accounts for an estimated 1.2 percent of total GDP, while agriculture accounts for 6.6 percent of the GDP, according to the Ghana Statistical Service.

Total domestic fish production from all sources in the past five years averaged just under 450,000 metric tons (MT) per annum. Although beginning from a low level, the aquaculture sector has registered remarkable growth since 2010, production growing from 10,000 MT to 57,000 MT in 2017.

Any future production increases will likely come from fish farming, as marine stocks approach critical levels due to overfishing and this is also offering the best price competitiveness too as cedi depreciation increases the prices on imported fish. Tuna production and exports did expand recently, but the overall production trend for capture fisheries is static, if not declining.

This suggest that policymakers need to give much attention and resources to aquaculture in the country.

By Joshua W. Amlanu