President John Agyekum Kufuor put smiles on the faces of fisher folks at James Town in the Greater Accra region yesterday when he cut the sod for work to commence on a $16.5 million fishing habour.
Similar projects have been earmarked for other fishing communities across the country as a means of modernising the fishing industry.
Members of the James Town community could not hide their joy as the women spread their cloths on the ground for the President to walk on.
Thirteen other habours would be constructed by the contractors - DHV Consultants from Holland - along the coast of the country at the cost of $148 million as part of government's efforts at modernizing the fishing industry.
Each habour or landing site would have a cold storage plant, ice making plant, fuel depot, power station, an administration and management block, a shed for mending fish nets, a market, and a fish net storage facility as well as a day care centre to cater for the children of the fisher folks.
Among the benefits expected from such projects are the reduction in post-harvest losses and significant reduction in damage to canoes.
The ultra modern facility is aimed at providing a cleaner and hygienic way of handling fish and storage in compliance with requirements of the European Union member countries where most of Ghana's fish is exported to.
Speaking at the ceremony, President Kufuor noted that 10 percent of the country's population were fishermen but due to the lack of storage facility they are forced to “throw back their catch into the sea to prevent spoilage.”
The President indicated that when the NPP government assumed office it was realized that the fishing industry had been neglected, hence the decision to de-couple the fisheries sector from the Ministry of Agriculture, but “we were criticized for this.
“I am happy to observe that within a short space of time the Ministry has come into its own and has amply justified the reason for its establishment.”
As a result of government's efforts at improving the capacity of fisher folks, he mentioned that considerable progress had been made in increasing fresh tuna catch but the bane of the tuna fishing “is the poachers who fish in Ghana's territorial water with deep-sea fishing trawlers”.
It would be recalled that not too long ago there were many complaints against the practice of pair trawling on the country's territorial waters to the point that some fishermen embarked on a protest.
To address this problem, the President promised that steps were being taken to equip the Navy with more patrol boats to ensure effective patrol of Ghana's territorial waters and protection of its fishing stock.
He added that under the auspices of the Navy, life guard detachments would be established at all the habours and landing sites.
President Kufuor called on the fisher folks to maintain the investment to prolong its life span for their own benefit.
The President, who could not end his speech without commenting on the impending general election, pleaded with the traditional leaders as well as the fisher folks to, in their own small way, work towards having credible elections.
Gladys Asmah, the Minister of Fisheries, remarked that though the local fisher folks upon interaction with the engineers of the project had little doubts, “I am happy to note that the time for the construction of the fishing habour which they have dreamt of over the years has finally come.”
Research findings, she stated, over the past three decades have indicated that the effect of global climate change coupled with the seeming exploitation of the sea have led to the depleting of stock of the fisheries resources.
As part of measures to address the problem, she indicated, the young Ministry which was created three years ago is encouraging aquaculture and fish farming.
The Tema canoe beach, she disclosed, has been marked for the second phase of the project.
Earlier, Nii Abio Kyere Quanta of the Ghana National Canoe and Fishermen Council passionately appealed to government to repossess the Tema Boatyard which was divested in 1996 by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) at the cost of GH¢3,300.
The inability of the company to refurbish canoes and boats, he said, was putting the lives of fishermen in danger, but the Minister of Fisheries gave the assurance that the process of repossession has started.
Jan Oomen, director of DHV, the company that undertook the feasibility study and design of the 14 projects, promised to deliver on time.
“It gives us therefore extra satisfaction and happiness that we can serve your ministry and the benefiting coastal population at large in developing modern fish landing sites at those locations.”
By Emelia Ennin Abbey & Esther Awuah