Ghana’s sardinella fishery is under severe threat from illegal targeting by industrial trawlers in an illegal transshipment trade known locally as “saiko”.
According to a new report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working to protect the environment, 99 per cent of “saiko” sardinella were found to be juveniles.
This, it said, was extremely worrying as young fishes were crucial to population recovery, meanwhile sardinella were already on the brink of collapse, having crashed by 80 percent over the past two decades.
“Saiko” is a destructive form of illegal fishing, where foreign trawlers target the main catch of Ghanaian canoe fishers, transfer it at sea to specially adapted boats, and sell this stolen fish back to local communities at a profit.
Last year, EJF’s research revealed that in 2017 alone, the saiko trade took around 100,000 tonnes of fish, costing Ghana millions of dollars in revenue and threatening food security and coastal livelihoods.
According to a recent assessment by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the sardinella fishery shared between Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Benin was near total collapse.
In the new study, EJF examined 18 blocks of saiko fish, landed at Elmina and found that sardinella were present in two thirds of the blocks and 99 per cent of them were juveniles below minimum legal landing size.
The NGO also examined the by-catch landed by trawlers and found a very similar picture.
The report said trawling with illegal nets, a mesh size smaller than the legal minimum was a major problem in Ghana, adding that, crew and fisheries observers working on industrial vessels affirmed that such nets were routinely used.
It said although saiko transhipments, under-size mesh nets, and landing juveniles were illegal practices as clearly laid out in Ghanaian laws, they were often allowed to continue unchecked.
“The trawlers are owned almost exclusively by Chinese operators, who use Ghanaian ‘front’ companies to bypass laws forbidding any foreign ownership or control of industrial trawl vessels flying Ghana’s flag.”
EJF revealed that over 90 per cent of industrial trawlers licensed in Ghana were linked to Chinese ownership, the report stated.
The NGO is therefore demanding that a thorough inspections of the landings of industrial trawlers were carried out to ensure they were only targeting species of the type and size dictated by their license, and that the landed fish were above the minimum legal size.