In January 2013, the Ghana Statistical Service declared that the contribution of fisheries to Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had declined and that the fisheries sub-sector was one of the worst performers in the year 2012, as far as the economy of the country was concerned.
The main causes of dwindling fish stocks have been identified as overfishing and the use of destructive fishing gears.
Unsustainable fishing methods like light and chemical/dynamite fishing, use of destructive fishing gears like monofilament nets to catch fish, including juvenile fish, increased fishing effort due to increase in number of fishing vessels, increased number and size of fishing gears, use of ice at sea resulting in prolonged fishing trips and weak compliance and enforcement of the Fisheries Laws and Regulations to mention a few.
In other words, systemic overfishing is worsened by illegal catches and trade.
It is estimated that Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing ―any type of fishing that is practiced in contravention of existing legal, management and conservation measures― earns up to US$36.4 billion each year, globally.
In 2018, ninety-eight (98) IUU infractions were recorded in Ghana, out of which, about twelve (12) were settled by the Fisheries Settlement Committee.
And in 2019, one hundred and seventy (170) IUU infractions were recorded out of which, about fifteen (15) cases were settled by the Fisheries Settlement Committee, with the rest are still under investigation.
In an effort to address the challenges and reverse the situation, the Government of Ghana enacted the Fisheries Law (Act 625) in 2002 and promulgated the Fisheries Regulations (Legislative Instrument 1968) in 2010 to give effect to the Fisheries Act.
This was followed by the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 2014 (Act 880)― an Act to amend the Fisheries Act, 2002 (Act 625) to give effect to international conservation and management obligations, to empower the Minister to make regulations to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in accordance with international obligation of the country and other related matters.
What, then, does the law say about IUU fishing?
According to section 88A of Act 880, a fishing vessel is presumed to be engaged in IUU fishing if it is shown that, contrary to the conservation and management measures applicable in the fishing area concerned, the fishing vessel has been used to fish without a valid licence, authorisation or permit issued by the flag State or the relevant coastal State; the owner, operator, charterer or master of the fishing vessel has not fulfilled the obligations to record and report catch or catch-related data, including data to be transmitted by a vessel monitoring system; the fishing vessel has been used to fish in a closed area, during a closed season, without or after attainment of a quota or beyond a closed depth; the owner, operator, charterer or master of the fishing vessel has falsified documents in relation to the fishing vessel; the fishing vessel has engaged in fishing a stock which is subject to a moratorium or for which fishing is prohibited; the fishing vessel used prohibited or non-compliant fishing gear; the fishing vessel has falsified or concealed its markings, identity or registration; the owner, operator, charterer or master of the fishing vessel has concealed, tampered with or disposed of evidence relating to an investigation concerning the fishing activities of the fishing vessel; the owner, operator, charterer or master of the fishing vessel has obstructed the work of officials in the exercise of duties in inspecting the fishing vessel for compliance with the applicable conservation and management measures or the work of observer in the exercise of duties under this Act; the fishing vessel has taken on board, transhipped or landed undersized fish in contravention of this Act or Regulations made under this Act or the conditions of licence in force; the fishing vessel is used for fishing but has no nationality and is a stateless fishing vessel, in accordance with international law; the fishing vessel engaged in a fishing activity with another fishing vessel which is on the IUU list or register of a regional fishing management organisation.
So, therefore, this is the law and useful tool a useful tool, but the next hurdle is how to ensure compliance and enforcement.
It has been recommended that in order to be able to overcome Financial the challenges of weak enforcement of the law, substantial financial resources should be committed to implementation while a maximum level of co-operation should exist between enforcement officers and at-sea-observers.
Ensuring compliance with the law and enforcing it, according to the experts, will also require an adequate number of fisheries officers at the landing beaches while the fisheries enforcement officers should be adequately motivated.
Dealing with Political interference will be another critical challenge in compliance and enforcement
The writer is a journalist and a lawyer.
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