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If pair-trawling exists, ask the computers

Sat, 2 Jul 2016 Source: Obrempong Yaw Ampofo

But for machines that can break up at some point, I would have defended to the abyss that pair-trawling does not exist in Ghana. Pair trawling in simple terms is when two big fishing boats tie a trawl net between them and move in parallel. This practice catches almost every fish at the area where it is happening. It depletes the ocean so fast of fish resources. This month, we heard two of the most influential political leaders in Ghana, the NDC and NPP all promising the electorate, particularly those in fishing communities that they will ban pair-trawling when elected or giving more stay in power.

With all due respect, that problem you intend to address does not exist! It does not; and if it does, the computers and those who check our maritime space at the Fisheries Commission offices in Tema are to blame, not the perpetrators.

That is not to say there is nothing politicians can promise the fishing constituencies. There is. Perhaps they can stop promising more outboard motors and other cheaper fishing inputs which goes to put more pressure on the already dwindling stock. But that has already been dealt with in my previous articles. The confusion Some canoe fishermen are yet to come to terms with why the sea is indeed “drying” of fish stock.

Their searches for answers usually point them to those “alien” trawler vessels in their fishing space. These vessels are larger than their motorized and non-motorized canoes. They catch more than their canoes, so to speak. Their plight is understandable, but this is where the confusion is.

Do they really mean pair-trawling when you hear them say pair-trawling is killing their business? Do they mean pair-trawling when they tell politicians to ban it? Well, hear my conversation with Eric Arloo, 32 years at the shores of Axim, Nzema East Municipal Assembly of the western region. We had some 16minutes conversation about the happenings in the fishing business. But this part on pair-trawling lasted for three minutes.

The date is 18th May 2016 and its midmorning. Eric had just finished selling his catch to the women at the shores. Me: Boss good day, your catch these days are going down, the women were “fighting” over your little catch, why? [He steps out of the water and leans on one of the canoes]:

Eric: It’s not been easy. It’s getting worse by the day. We spend a lot of money before we get to the sea. But our catch is not enough. We try to get enough catch to recover the expenses. But it’s not been easy. We are doing all we can.

Me: I see. I hear it’s been so for those who use the light too. Eric: Well, the light is somehow Ok. For them they get something.

Me: I see. Do you use the light?

Eric: Frankly, before our chiefs barred it, I and my team were using it. We sometimes go to sea with light.

Me: oh ok. Eric: Yea, sometimes. We know it catches all the small fishes. But, it all adds up. It is part of the reason the fish is depleting in the sea though.

Me: Did you say you know it’s the reason your sea is drying but you continue doing it?

Eric: But that is why our chiefs have banned it. Even if you don’t, others are doing it. Will you like your business to run into losses? Many are doing it. Ours is not even a big problem. You know the pair-trawlers who are catching all the fishes? They ar’se there catching all the fishes. What happening to them?

Me: Did you say pair-trawlers are catching all the fishes?

Eric: Yes. We see them passing when we are there.

Me: I see. You mean you see two big fishing boats fishing at the same time?

Eric: They are not two, they are many. We see them.

Me: Really? Take your time. Are you saying you see many big boats fishing together at the same time and place?

Eric: Not that. Not as they are all fishing together. But they go and catch all the fishes.

Me: Help me here. A quick clarification. Are you accusing the big boats of catching all the fishes you could have caught or you are referring to two of the big boats, fishing in an area at the same time and place?

Eric: They are catching all the fish, the China China people. Not that they catch at the same time. Not that. But they are big that they catch plenty fishes before they land. They have to be banned.

Me: I see. So Uncle Eric, it is not that you are saying two big fishing boats fish at the same time and place, but that the big boats catch a lot of fish that you could have caught?

Eric: Yes.

Me: Well, that’s Ok. Then you are referring to the trawlers vessels. Not pair-trawling. Pair-trawling is when two of the big boats you are referring to fish at the same time and place using trawl net.

Eric: Aaah. Well, but tell the people to stop those trawlers. They catch plenty of our fishes. Even if you see some and ask them to sell some of their small fishes to you, they will tell you go! go!! go!!!

Me: Eric I understand. I will tell them. Alright. But do you now know the difference between pair-trawling and trawlers?

Eric: Yes Me: Very well. There are differences between them. [We continue our conversation on dwindling fish stock] This conversation is a picture of the confusion in the fishing space on pair-trawling.

The fishermen refer to the legally registered trawler vessels working as pair-trawling! From the conversation, you could also see the genuine concern of the fisherman to get trawler numbers reduced or even banned. The reason is because the stock of fish is dwindling and the existing registered numbers are not helping matters.

But this conversation does not just end the argument or the confusion. Let us consider some other reasons to indeed bunkum the point that pair-trawling exist. Marine technologies at a glance All trawler vessels in the Ghanaian fishing space are required by law to be fitted with a tracking system called Vessel Monitoring Systems VMS.

VMS systems are used in commercial fishing to allow environmental and fisheries regulatory organizations to track and monitor the activities of fishing vessels in its territorial boundaries.

They improve the management and sustainability of the marine environment, through ensuring proper fishing practices and the prevention of illegal fishing, and thus protect and enhance the livelihood of fishermen. It’s not used only in Ghana, but in the advanced worlds as well.

The Fisheries Commission has the VMS monitoring platform in Tema. How the VMS check pair-trawling The VMS fitted in all trawler vessels operating in the country transmits through its transponders, its position and movement pattern to the VMS monitoring platform on computers at Fisheries Commission office in Tema.

Here, officers at the office have a clear 3D satellite view of all trawler vessels stationed or moving in the Ghanaian fishing space. With this platform in place, Fisheries Commission is able to track all the trawlers vessels.

So in the event two trawler vessels are transmitting to the platform at the same time, movement and direction, or stationed at one point on the waters for a period of time, it is easily seen at the VMS office at the Fisheries Commission.

That triggers all the enquiries and penalties that are “abnormally” set to deal the menace. Again, trawler vessel operators are banned from disabling or tampering with the VMS batteries or cables fitted to their vessels. They are also made to answer questions for why, if for any reason their VMS stops transmitting or communicating with the VMS control platform. You do not want to know the penalties spelt out in books for offenders.

The doubts Has these not put the debate to a rest? Well, or you are asking how about if a trawler vessel does not have this VMS. OK. That becomes a clear case of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Fisheries Commission, the Ghana Navy and the Marine Police forming a cartel to dup the system which I doubt is possible.

This is because all trawler vessels are giving final approval and signature by the minister for Fisheries. So if there are trawler vessels without VMS, that office should be blamed for it. That should also change the promise from the politicians to the fishermen. They should then promise to fish out those at these offices duping the machines.

The Automatic Identification System-AIS

Or you are asking how about if a trawler vessel comes from outside the country to engage in pair-trawling? Well, all vessels travelling outside their territorial waters have either the VMS or been monitored by the Automatic Identification System AIS or the Vessel Traffic Management Information System (VTMIS), The AIS is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships, AIS base stations and satellites.

The Ghana Maritime Authority controls this space. They can also check when requested by the Fisheries Commission to identify unauthorized vessels in the Ghanaian fishing space. So a foreign vessel also coming to do this pair-trawling is also checked, unless their computers are also malfunctioning, which I doubt here too.

Other “manual” checks

The Navy and the Ghana Marine Police also carry patrolling on the fishing space. The Navy at reasonable times partners the Fisheries Commission to also carry those checks, while the Marine Police are also despite their logistical constraints carrying out regular complying patrols to check other illegal fishing practices.

So with all these systems in place, it stands to reason that, if pair-trawling indeed exist, the computers and its operators are to blame for it, not the promises to fisher folks as if they are causing the problems. The last time I checked, pair-trawling usually becomes topical debate only in some few months to major elections in the country.

Writer's e-mail:Walkerjazzy23@gmail.com

Columnist: Obrempong Yaw Ampofo