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Climate change: Will Ghana still have fish by 2050?

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Wed, 21 Jun 2023 Source:

It’s a typical sunny day at the James Town Beach in Accra. Boats and canoes are lined up alike, on sea and ashore.

Fishers have returned with their nets and are sorting out the catch for the day. Some of these individuals have been dependent on fishing as a job for years and with its proceeds, they feed their families and provide for the home.

Previously, the catch from one fishing trip to the sea could produce tons of fishes, translating to more money and happy fishers but today, the nets are either half-empty or virtually empty.

Fishes are moving away from what used to be their habitat into deeper waters to either find some cool or comfort away from the harsh temperatures which have made the waters warm.

And when fishes migrate, fishing becomes hectic and the fisher catches lesser fish with each corresponding attempt; making the future grimmer by the day.

Climate change and its impact on fisheries:

Climate change has come to be as a result of human activities which release harmful gases into the atmosphere including greenhouse gases which are responsible for the heat and carbon dioxide concentration.

The effect of climate change has not only been felt by plant life, farming etc. but also marine animals.

Research has indicated that ocean basins have experienced extreme temperature events in recent times, leading to dire consequences on fish and other aquatic animals.

According to Science Advances; globally, the frequency of marine extreme high temperatures has been affecting many ecosystems since 1982 and is projected to further increase due to global warming.

Dr. Andrews Agyekumhene, an expert and Lecturer at the Department of Fisheries and Marine at the University of Ghana, speaking to GhanaWeb’s Wonder Ami Adu-Asare, explained how climate change has affected fish and marine life in Ghana’s waters.

“The climate is changing as most of us are aware and the driving force or the number one culprit is that we are introducing a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is coming into the atmosphere as a result of man’s activity like the release of fossil fuel. There are gases in the atmosphere called greenhouse gases, their main role is to trap this heat and make life bearable. It is important because that heat helps plant photosynthesize and even helps our clothes dry.

“One of the key effects of climate change as we know is increasing temperatures and that is where the impact on the marine system comes in. Every organism including man has a temperature range within which we are most active and with this changing climate, this temperature range has been exceeded. We are having temperature extremes and that is making life in the ocean unbearable,” he noted.

“Animals in the marine environment are uncomfortable because of these extreme temperatures. For fish, they can be stressed and when the temperatures are high, the first thing is that, these animals get stressed. When the temperatures increase to a certain range, the habitats are affected and the animals have to move or die off; migration and that is why now we don’t have a lot of fish in our system like we used to have. The waters are hot and the fishes have gone deeper,” he added.

In addition, he says the increased temperatures have contributed to bleaching of coral reeves which makes the condition of that area non-habitable for these marine mammals and fish, leading to migration.

How fishers are affected:

To get a first-hand idea about how bad the situation is, GhanaWeb spoke to some fishers and fishmongers at the James Town Beach. For these people, times have changed, and fishing is even more difficult in recent times because of the change in temperatures and what would have taken very little effort to get, they now use much more energy and resources to obtain.

Nii Armaah, a fisher who has been in the vocation for years, told Wonder Ami Adu-Asare that fishing which he used to enjoy doing with his father as a young man has now become difficult for him.

Because of the impact of climate change on the waters, fishing has become tedious and he makes more losses than gains when he goes fishing.

Nii who depends on this vocation to feed his family says he has had to quit and sell fish which he deems more profitable now.

“I used to go fishing but I have quit because there are no fishes and we are making more losses than profit. The money we invest to go fishing is a lot but when we come back, we don’t get a lot and that’s why I decided to quit and rather buy and sell. We go to Takoradi, the fuel we waste, food and water, by the time we come, we don’t get any profit,” he said.

Another woman, Madam Shai, who has been selling fish for over 30 years explained that her business has seen a significant drop in recent times because there is no fish. According to her, when fishers return, they come back with very little fish unlike what used to be.

“When I started selling fish, I was very happy with the produce. They used to get a lot of fish, different species too. In a season like this, they used to harvest a lot of fishes but now the fishes have gone deep into the sea, we can’t get them, so we just come and walk around and get nothing, then we go back,” she noted.

Dr. Agyekumhene also explained that fishes and marine animals die and are washed ashore as a result of the extreme temperatures caused by climate change in recent times.

Plastic waste and climate change:

The marine and fisheries expert also explained that plastic waste which has taken over most of Ghana’s waters also has a significant impact on climate change. Explaining how this works, Dr. Agyekumhene noted;

“There are chemicals that are used in the production of plastic. Polyethylene is one of them and methylene is also one of them, they are all products of fossil fuel. The extraction of these products can lead to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Again, after they have been extracted, they must be processed. During every production, there are by-products and the release of carbon dioxide also comes as a result of the production of plastics. So along the extraction stage to the production stage of plastics, we have the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” he noted.

The way forward

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement recognizes the need for effective and progressive responses to the urgent threat of climate change through mitigation and adaptation measures, while taking into account the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems.

Dr. Agyekumhene agrees with this, suggesting that critical measures are taken to reduce the emission of harmful gases that are contributing to climate change to consequently reduce the impact of climate change on fish and marine animals.

According to him, if nothing is done about the situation, the food production system, particularly with regard to fish will be affected.

He proposed the following as some measures to curb the growing impact of climate change on fish.

“Awareness. If people are aware of some of the activities that can bring carbon dioxide into the environment, maybe we can get some of them stopped. If people are aware of how in their daily activities can help rid the environment of carbon dioxide, then we can help.

“But everything points to policies. If I’m planting trees today and my grandchild cannot sit under it because someone is going to cut it, I’m not doing anything so we need policies that are going to make the environmental system well catered for, he noted.

“We must let the punishment fit the crime,” he added.

Dr. Agyekumhene also advocated for the ban on the production of plastic waste as part of efforts to reduce carbon dioxide in the environment.

This report is produced in fulfilment of the UNESCO & CIJ London Climate Change in News Media project facilitated by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development".

Authored by Wonder Ami Adu-Asare

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