NEWS COMMENTARY ON GHANA’S FISHING CLOSED SEASON
The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development has announced a one month closed fishing season starting from 15th May to 15th June for inshore and artisanal fleet generally referred to as canoes. The closed season is a month away, hence too early to assess whether our fisher folk would comply or not. It is also not clear whether this policy will be effectively enforced as it is not clear how the Ministry intends enforcing the ban. If the closed season becomes successful it will give credit to the Ministry for taking the right combination of policy decisions and urgent actions. An effective close season will help reverse the depletion of our fish stocks.
The truth, however, is that the situation is more challenging than is being appreciated. It is true that the country’s fisheries governance is in dire stage and risks slipping into perpetual governance predicament. Last year’s abortive closed season was in August. One may ask what triggered the shift from August to May/June and further wonder if government erred in selecting last year’s date. Is May/June the best period for a closed season or it is just a mere convenient compromise? It is common knowledge that May/June is the spawning period for our fisheries therefore is a one month closed season sufficient or it should be targeted at at least two months to ensure a more effective recovery? Some countries have successfully imposed a closed season of three to four months. Why can’t Ghana also start with two months?
Inspite of all the lingering questions, the one-month ban can be described as a good first step. The reality is that Ghana’s fisheries is in serious decline due to years of policy failures. Livelihoods, employment and economic well being of millions of Ghanaians are at risk. But the issue is more urgent than that. Ghana is among the top six fish consuming nations in the world. Collapsed fisheries therefore mean unimaginable food security challenges and major nutritional concerns. Thus, decisions concerning Ghana’s fisheries should not be treated as peripheral or minor. If we truly appreciate “national security” concerns, then the fisheries should rank among our national security priorities. That is, if security is understood in its human context. It is important that government get the economies of our fisheries right.
Why do we continue subsidising fisheries through pre-mix fuel and other means? Are consumers unwilling to buy fish at an economic price or are the fisher folk unable to undertake fishing at an economic rate? Is the cost of undertaking fishing too high or the catch levels are rather dwindling hence the subsidy? Is the subsidy a viable solution or we are in a cycle of policy mess? Has pre-mix fuel become a political albatross? Fisheries is an important resource and the economies of some nations are anchored on that. That cannot however be said about Ghana.
The Ministry should be declaring revenue and income through fisheries licenses and other interventions. If that is not the situation and we are spending more on our fisheries administration than the returns, then we are losing a great deal. One will wonder if closed seasons are the solutions to fisheries sustainability. From the point of view of an artisanal fisher folk, are we getting our fisheries governance, right?
BY KAMAL-DEEN ALI.