Fishing livelihoods traded for oil
Prior to the exploration of oil, fishing was a major source of livelihood for many people in the coastal communities in the Western Region.
Oil production was, therefore, expected to serve as a tool for development especially in the region but not to deprive fisher- folks of their source of daily bread.
But five years on, the dissatisfaction among the fisher folks is increasing due to reduced catch, which they attribute largely to the exploration of oil.
At Anokyi, a community in the Ellembele District in the Western Region, the fishermen lamented that the laying of pipelines into the sea for exploration had virtually deprived them of their livelihoods.
The story is not different at Abuesi, a fishing community in the Shama District. Here, fishermen explained that they experienced low catch because the lights around the rig used for exploration attracted the fishes and to make matters worse, they were restricted from fishing within a certain radius.
At Dixcove in the West Ahanta District, where over 95 per cent of the community is into fishing, fisherfolks are predicting a bleak future for the fisheries sector, if nothing is done to salvage the sector.
The Chief Linguist for the Lower Dixcove Chief Fisherman, Kweku Asafua, during an interaction with journalists, said the oil exploration had impacted negatively on their businesses because of the light used for fishing and the restriction from the navy in areas they could fish.
“Due to the exploration of oil in our seas, there are so many restrictions as to where we can fish. To make matters worse, the light around the rig attracts all the fishes and even if you are far from the rig, the navy people will warn you,” he said.
He further lamented that, “you have to pay about GH¢3,000 to get your canoe back should the navy people arrest you. And even if you pay, it will take like six months. The fishing business is no longer attractive.”
Another fisherman, who gave his name as Akwasi, said, “The oil has spoilt the business. During August, when there is supposed to be a boom, we are not getting any fish because of where the rig is. We are really struggling.”
No alternative livelihood
Although five years will not be enough to determine whether oil has been a curse or blessing, the discontentment and marred expectations of all citizens testify to the fact that oil has not been the much anticipated ‘game changer’.
It is a known fact that oil exploration was going to affect livelihoods, especially fishing, but five years on, it is unclear what alternative livelihoods have been made for these fisher folks who have been crying over their fast depleting livelihood over the years.
Fishing activities are expected to be more threatened as more oil fields are being discovered and exploration in the seas is likely to further limit operations of the fishermen.
The Vice Chancellor of the Regional Maritime University (RMU), Professor Elvis Nyarko, at an earlier meeting with journalists undergoing training on the extractive sector said it was necessary for the fisherfolks to be trained to become welders, marine engine mechanics, and engineering assistants so that they could help in the oil sector.
Declining fortunes of fisheries
In spite of the apparent potential of the fishing industry, the sector has recorded consistent decline in terms of output over the years. From over 800,000 metric tonnes of fish produced annually in 2006, production has slumped to 46,250 metric tonnes in 2015.
According to a 2008 Bank of Ghana (BoG) report on the Fisheries sub-sector and the Ghanaian economy, it was revealed that as far back as 2006, the sector’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as output had been declining.
“For example, the contribution of the fisheries sector to GDP has declined from around 6 per cent in 1993 to about 3.9 per cent in 2006 even though in nominal terms, fish catches seem to have been growing steadily. In terms of absolute output, fish landing was estimated at about 800,000 metric tonnes per annum in the past but this has fallen to an annual fish catch of 480,000 metric tonnes currently (2008) ,” the report said.
The Community Development Coordinator of Takoradi- based Friends of the Nation (FoN), Mr Kwesi R. Johnson, in an interview with the Graphic Business said the drop in fishing activities in the coastal communities was coincidental with the advent of oil exploration.
“In Ghana, our oil production is marine based and that means it will affect fishing to some extent. It was, however, a coincidence that post oil production, the sector recorded a sharp drop. Output just went down like that,” he said.
FoN, established in 1993, is a registered socio-environmental advocacy, non-profit, non-governmental development-oriented organisation based in Adiembra in the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis of the Western Region of Ghana.