Small pelagic fish species in Ghana – sardinella, anchovies and mackerel – have reached unsustainable levels and may face total depletion by the year 2020 if urgent measures are not instituted to reduce fishing and recover dwindling stock, according to a report.
The Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP) study on the status of Ghana’s small pelagic fish stock revealed that, “The small pelagic resources, particularly sardinella, are on the verge of collapse. Annual landings have been in decline for more than a decade as fishing efforts have increased.”
“This drastic decline in landings is due primarily to overfishing and overcapacity of the fishing fleet. Fishing pressure is driven largely by the artisanal fleet operating under open access rules, using bigger and more efficient fishing gear and technologies,” the report said.
Following continuous reports of low catch at sea and dwindling fish stock in the country, the Scientific and Technical Working Group (STWG) of the SFMP conducted a study to assess the state of artisanal fisheries in Ghana for 2017 and suggest how dwindling stocks can be regained to sustainable levels.
The STWG assessed information from the Fisheries Scientific and Survey Division (FSSD) of the Fisheries Commission, analysing available data against previously established biological reference points or management indicators.
They found that small pelagic species in Ghana are overfished while fishing mortality has gradually increased in the past 25-years, reaching high and unsustainable levels in 2016.
According to the research report, the small pelagic fish species (composed of round sardinella, flat sardinella, anchovies and mackerel) account for more than 80% of the total small pelagic fish stock in Ghana and are the most exploited by artisanal fishermen for local consumption.
The fishermen mostly employ illegal fishing practices with the use of adjusted purse seins, encircling gillnets and beach seines in catching the small pelagics. These purse seines have been adjusted over the years, with their canoe capacity increased as well as outboard motor engines enhanced to increase fishing effort and pressure.
The species, as a result, have now reached an all-time low in landings and may eventually be totally depleted unless some changes are made soon.
The study concluded that “current fishing effort is well beyond the level of sustainability for small pelagic stocks, and until effort control measures are instituted stocks will continue to decline with diminishing economic returns”.
According to the report, if fishing levels remain the same and catch levels continue at a constant rate of 20,000 metric tonnes per year, then we will see a total depletion of small pelagic fish stock by 2020.
The report however indicates that the problem can be salvaged with timely intervention. It explains that if fishing mortality is reduced beginning in 2018, small pelagic landings can reach up to 90,000 metric tonnes by 2030 – directly resulting in a 36% reduction in total annual fish imports in the country.
This projected output is more promising than the estimated output for the ‘Aquaculture for Food and Jobs’ initiative – the flagship programme of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD) – which is pegged to produce a maximum yield of 40,000 metric tonnes of fish over the same period.
The study therefore recommended implementing the management measures spelled out in the national marine fisheries management plan of 2015 to 2019.
Specifically, the report tasked the Fisheries Commission to end open access and implement canoe registration and licencing of small artisanal fisheries.
It also recommended a 50% reduction in fishing days of trawlers as well as an additional fishing holiday, instituting a one-month closure on all fleet activities in addition.
The report from the SFMP study and recommendations are among urgent measures by stakeholders in the fishing sector to help revive a dwindling industry.
The sector has seen a constant decline in fish stock and low contribution to the economy over the years.
Presently, local demand significantly outstrips supply – leading to an annual importation of over 600,000 metric tonnes of fish.
This leads to significant increases in government expenditure for a sector that has contributed less than 3 percent growth to GDP since 2006.
The fishing industry employs about 10% of Ghanaians, mostly in coastal communities, while contributing about 20% of the national protein intake as a result of fish consumption.
However, due to a significant decline in landings over the years, the industry has been left on life support with minimal efforts at resuscitation.