Ayele Okine grills fingerlings on Jamestown Beach in Accra, Ghana. Smoke billows from her charcoal fire. She tells the story of how her husband became a criminal. He was a fisherman, but fishing became unprofitable. Illegal fishing vessels were depleting stocks and damaging small-scale fishing equipment. Ms. Okine’s husband became frustrated and depressed. Then one day he was arrested for robbery.
Ms. Okine’s husband is one of thousands of small-scale fishers who have given up fishing along Accra’s coast. They feel they cannot compete with foreign trawlers – especially those that use illegal practices.
But local fishers were recently presented with a tool to fight back. The Ghana Fisheries Commission has given them cameras to help document illegal fishing.
Mike Kwabena Akyeampong is chair of the commission. He says the government doesn’t have the capacity to monitor the shoreline around the clock. So they need the eyes of small-scale fishers. They train fishers to gather intelligence and report back to security agencies.
The initiative paid off almost immediately. In December, local fishers reported two foreign vessels operating illegally. Both of the vessels were fishing inshore, an area protected by law for local, small-scale fishers. Fishers presented evidence that, by deliberately entering protected water, the foreign trawlers destroyed the nets of local fishers. Both foreign vessels had their licenses suspended.
Ghana’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food is seeking amendments to the fisheries law to raise fines for illegal fishing. They also want to make it more difficult for foreign trawlers to obtain a fishing license.
The ministry is in the process of acquiring two patrol boats so that the Navy can arrest illegal trawlers. In the meantime, local fishers use their new cameras to monitor the shores.