A meeting in Ghana on April 5 marked a turning point towards implementing global guidelines on tenure rights to save the country’s declining fishing industry.
Rights of access to land, fish stocks and forests are not always guaranteed. While local communities around the world often have systems to decide how access is granted, these systems are often informal. As times change and conflicts arise, there is the potential that those with the least power will have their rights eroded. In Ghana, this represents a real threat to national food security.
Ghana’s fisheries are in steep decline, with landings of key species for local consumption at their lowest recorded level since 1980. Traditional fishing communities have been hit hardest, with average annual income per canoe dropping by as much as 40 percent in the last 10 to 15 years.
An example of traditional tenure rights is the clam fishery of the Volta estuary. The clam “miners” informally agree to the terms of their tenure: fishing grounds are open six days a week, there is a three-month closed season, and anyone can harvest clams, but they must first seek the approval of the traditional authorities. This system has worked well for decades, but it is completely informal. Now conflicts have started to arise, such as newly built hotels and recreational users of the Volta estuary encroaching on traditional clam landing sites, farming and fishing areas.
Chairman of Ghana’s National Canoe Fishermen Council, Nana Jojo Solomon, said: “Recent years have seen an escalation of conflicts between industrial fishing vessels and local canoes, resulting in collisions and the destruction of fishing gear, in some cases within the inshore zone reserved for canoe fishers. Fishers are rarely able to obtain compensation for their losses, due to difficulties in identifying the offending vessel, and the burden of making a claim.”
The meeting, co-organized by the Environmental Justice Foundation, Hen Mpoano, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), with the support of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, brought together traditional authorities, fisher and fish processor associations, representatives from government, spatial planners, civil society organizations, legal experts and academics to address the issues.
The guidelines approved at the meeting represent a step towards recognition and respect for all forms of legitimate tenure rights in Ghana. With these reforms, Ghana has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in dealing with the complex issues of small-scale fisheries governance and tenure rights, which are being played out, not just in Ghana, but across the world.
Small-scale fisheries are a vital source of income and food for millions of people across West Africa, employing 20 times more people than industrial fleets. Ghana has one of the largest and most important small-scale fleets in the region, accounting for 11 percent of total artisanal canoes in West Africa and employing over 80 percent of fishers in the country. Over two million people, or 10 percent of the country’s total population, depend on fisheries for their livelihoods, with more than 200 coastal villages reliant on fisheries as their primary source of income.
Since January 2017, the Environmental Justice Foundation and Hen Mpoano have been working in partnership to implement a three-year project dubbed Far Dwuma Nkɔdo (literally meaning securing sustainable fisheries) in the country, with funding from the European Union. As part of this project, the Environmental Justice Foundation and Hen Mpoano are working to help drive a reduction in illegal fishing and give local fishers a voice in the process to build a more sustainable fishing sector:
• Through a unique combination of local surveillance and remote monitoring, they are strengthening the monitoring and reporting of illegal fishing and empowering local communities to document illicit fishing activities.
• They are working to empower small-scale fishers, vulnerable and marginalized groups to articulate their interests in fisheries reforms and implement fisheries co-management.
• They are promoting alternative livelihood options for small-scale fishing communities, helping them to diversify their local economies and to reduce their dependence on fishing.