A new study gives fresh evidence that the economies of Ghana and several countries are being negatively affected by the impacts of climate change on fisheries, and that there is the need for adaptation planning to promote fisheries in the affected nations to reduce poverty.
The study compared the vulnerability of national economies to potential climate change impacts on their capture fisheries using some indicators. Ghana ranked 25th out of 33 nations found to be “highly vulnerable,” while Angola and Turkey ranked 1st and 33rd respectively.
Results were published in the Wednesday February 4th 2009 online issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Fish and Fisheries.
Several other studies in recent years have observed effects of climate change on the distribution and production of individual fisheries. However, predicting the broader effects of climate change at national and regional scales, particularly its impacts on people, including millions of small-scale fish farmers in the developing world, have not been explored.
“This study is the first to identify nations whose economies are potentially the most vulnerable to future climate change impacts on the fisheries sector,” the researchers wrote.
“The problems driven by climate change are bad enough by themselves; what will make them much worse are the economic and institutional weaknesses of the vulnerable countries identified in this study and their fishing communities,” said Steve Hall, director general of WorldFish Centre, a non-profit, international research organization that conducted the study.
The importance of fish for a nation cannot be underestimated. In 2004, the Food and Agriculture Organization indicated that fish are an important protein source for some West African countries, comprising nearly two-thirds of daily animal protein intake in Ghana, The Gambia and Sierra Leone.
In 2004, President John Evans Atta Mills (then a Visiting Scholar at University of British Columbia in Canada) and colleagues undertook a case study to trace the early history of Ghana's fisheries, their gradual decline during the last four decades, and outline recommendations for policy changes and propel the nation towards sustainable fisheries. They identified overfishing and lack of good governance as among the factors that contributed to the decline of Ghana as a regional fishing nation.
“The decline of the fishing sector has limited the country's [Ghana's] ability to meet domestic demand and threatened the economic and food security of many Ghanaians,” Atta Mills and colleagues noted in the February 2004 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Natural Resources Forum.
But the problems confronting Ghana's fisheries appear not to be over. “Bad practices by fishermen and lack of proper regulation of fisheries by government, and politicization of fisheries, continue to cause the decline of fisheries in Ghana,” says Nii Abeo Kyerekuanda, the executive secretary of Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council, who is also an executive member of National Fisheries Association of Ghana. “Ghanaian fishermen produce 70-80% of Ghana's fish requirements, provide jobs for fishmongers, and many traders. Many people's livelihoods depend on the fish. Now that we are not getting many fish, the economy is likely to be hurt.”
Ghana's new government recently deemed the Ministry of Fisheries redundant, and has therefore “relocated” it under the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Many people, including fishermen, have expressed their concerns. The chief fishermen of the Western and Central regions recently issued a seven-point communiqué at the end of a two-day workshop in Takoradi organized by the Friends of the Nation, an environmental non-governmental organization (NGO).The communiqué, among others, urged the government to maintain the Ministry of Fisheries in order to address issues concerning fishermen.
But according to Nii Kyerekuanda, the issue is not just about maintaining the Ministry of Fisheries. “As long as those in charge of the Department of Fisheries at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture perform their functions well, there is no problem,” he says.
The WorldFish study, funded by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID), was based on environmental, fisheries, dietary and economic factors. The researchers identified a total of 182 nations, but lack of full set of data resulted in the exclusion of 60 countries. Out of the 132 countries selected for the study, 33 nations were identified and classified as “highly vulnerable”.
The researchers identified three key elements of vulnerability: measures of exposure to climate change, importance of fisheries to national economies and food security, and human development indices (healthy life expectancy, education, governance and size of economy).Using a Climate Analysis Indicator Tool (CAIT) developed by the World Resources Institute, the researchers combined the four human development indices, also known as adaptive capacity indices. The researchers then normalized and standardized the four adaptive capacity indices, and averaged them to produce the combined index.
The result: the United States, the country with the greatest adaptive capacity, had the lowest score, and her economy was the least vulnerable to impacts of climate change.
Of the 33 nations identified as “highly vulnerable,” the lower the ranking, the worse the ability of the nation's economy to deal with future impacts of climate change. Thus, Ghana's 25th position on the “WorldFish Ranking”, according to the study, is better than several West African nations, including Senegal (5th), Mali (6th), Sierra Leone (7th), Guinea (22nd), and Nigeria (23rd). Only The Gambia (26th) and Guinea Bissau (32nd) are the West African nations whose rankings are better than Ghana.
The study has some limitations. Some of the 60 countries excluded from the study (including Kiribati, Myanmar, Somalia, and the Solomon Islands) because of lack of data may have worse rankings than the 33 countries identified. Moreover, the key drivers of interest related to exposure to climate change include changes in air and water temperatures, ocean circulation and mixing, river flow, nutrient levels, sea and lake levels, ice cover, glacial melt, storm frequency and intensity, and flooding. However, the researchers compromised by using projected mean surface air temperature to 2050 as the key indicator of exposure to climate change because according to them “it is the best understood and most readily available indicator of future climate change.”
“From a strictly environmental perspective, countries in the higher latitudes will see the most pronounced impact from climate change on fishing,” said Edward Allison, director of policy, economics and social science at WorldFish Center and the paper's lead author. “But economically, people in the tropics and subtropics likely will suffer most, because fish are so important in their diets and because they have limited capacity to develop other sources of income and food.”
“We believe it is urgent to start identifying these vulnerable countries, because the damage will be greatly compounded unless national governments and international institutions like the World Bank act now to include the fish sector in plans for helping the poor cope with climate change,” he added.
Story by Bernard Appiah
[Email: mailto:[email protected]]
The author is a graduate student in science and technology journalism at Texas A&M University.