How fishermen and fishmongers are struggling to survive on the frontier of climate change in Ghana

ACCRA, Ghana – In an open shed along Accra’s Bortianor coast, one can hear the chatter of market women who hang around the landing beach most mornings in the hope of buying fish to trade then that fishermen pull their nets miles from shore.

“Sometimes it takes up to four hours to bring our nets ashore,” said artisanal fisherman George Kowukumeh. “And over the years we have seen a drastic reduction in our catches.”

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George Kowukumeh, artisanal fisherman, on the landing beach of Bortianor. Image courtesy of AL-Fattah. Ghana.

There are currently around 150 active fishing boats on the Bortianor landing beach, according to industry experts.

In Ghana, the artisanal fishing sector directly to employ over 200,000 fishers, supplying 80 percent of the total fish supply locally and providing livelihoods to over 2 million people, including thousands of women traders in the value chain.

When it comes to fishing, Ghanaian women are traditionally confined to processing and retail. The role of women is important as they add value to fresh fish through processing, while distributing and preserving the fish to ensure its availability long after the peak season and allow it to reach consumers far from the landing beach.

However, the close to collapse of the pelagic fish stock, which is the main target of artisanal fishers, has made fishers and women in the value chain vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A two-month survey conducted by Gideon Sarpong based on interviews with dozens of fisheries experts, researchers, fishers and women in the value chain showed declining income levels for thousands of households in fishermen, partly blamed on climate change and rising ocean temperatures. A non-existent government intervention program to support fishing communities, especially women who are highly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change, has left them to their fate.

Impact of climate change on fishermen and wholesalers

It’s been more than three hours since fishermen started pulling their nets on the Bortianor landing beach. There is obvious concern among the merchants and fishmongers gathered on the shore who buy their fish directly from the fishermen.

Agnes Lamptey, a fishmonger for more than 30 years, explains the reason for this concern: “When there is no catch, we don’t get fish to process to sell. We can’t even support our children. My kids are in high school and are forced to stay home when there’s a meager catch.

A few moments after the conversation with Agnès, the fishermen manage to bring their catch ashore. “Today’s catch is disappointing and full of garbage,” said local angler George Kowukumeh. “Several hours of hard work produced less than 500 cedis ($62) worth of fish for the 9 member crew, what do we do with that?”

Fishermen at Bortianor landing beach in Accra pull their nets to shore. Image courtesy of Al-Fattah. Ghana.

A fisherman’s catch contains plastic waste. Image courtesy of AL-Fattah. Ghana.

Video courtesy of iWatch Africa. Ghana, 2022.

Looking dejected and disappointed, some market women decide to wait a little longer for other fishing boats that have not yet returned to shore. For the fishermen, disappointment gradually becomes routine as they quickly prepare to mend their nets.

Video courtesy of iWatch Africa. Ghana, 2022.

In 2019, Sustainable Fisheries Management to research revealed that despite increased fishing effort by the artisanal fishing fleet in Ghanaian waters, catches of small pelagics fell by more than 85 percent, compared to the peak reported landings of 138,955 tonnes metrics recorded in 1996. Researchers blame climate change and other human-made activities such as illegal fishing as a major cause of the decline of pelagic fish stocks in the country’s waters.

Dr Opoku Pabi, Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Institute of Environmental and Health Studies, University of Ghana, explained that “Fish catches are strongly linked to surface waters and atmospheric temperatures; generally, the lower the temperatures, the higher the catch of fish.

“It varies somewhat from species to species, however: pelagic (round sardinella) catches peak when seawater temperature is at its lowest,” he added.

Data from a search paper he co-authored showed that Ghana has experienced a “steady rise in atmospheric and seawater temperatures since the 1960s, with the latter increasing on average by 0.011 degrees Celsius per year”.

The paper also notes that the “end of the rainy season”, which traditionally marks the start of the main fishing season, has become highly “unpredictable due to variability in rainfall distribution patterns, exacerbating poverty and indebtedness of artisanal fishermen and women in value”. chain.”

Traditionally, women in Ghana’s fishing communities – particularly the queens of the fishmongers – owned boats and financed trips, guaranteeing them a share of the catch.

But this traditional system breaks down as profits fall. Fishmonger Agnes Lamptey, whose husband is also a fisherman, counts her losses after investing in the day’s fishing.

She explained: “Fuel prices are expensive. I contributed 100 cedis ($12) to the day’s fishing trip and they came back with next to nothing. So can you imagine, I lose about 3000 cedis ($370) in a month if there are no daily catches. We really suffer, especially we women. We need money to take care of our children and run our business.

Fishmonger and shopkeeper Agnes Lamptey in Bortianor, Accra. Image courtesy of AL-Fattah. Ghana.

Steve Trent, chief executive of the Environmental Justice Foundation, an NGO which monitors economic and environmental abuses, warned that any further declines in Ghana’s fish stocks, especially pelagic species, would be “catastrophic and have enormous costs socio-economic”.

A 2021 study which looked at the effects of declining fish landings on the livelihoods of coastal communities showed that declining fish landings had ‘translated into low income levels’ for households directly dependent on fishing over the years.

According to the study, 53% of fishing households say they have seen a drop in their income over the past five years.

Closure of the fishing season — a painful solution?

In response to declining fish stocks in Ghanaian waters, the Ministry of Fisheries in April 2022 announcement a month-long closed fishing season for artisanal fishermen and semi-industrial vessels, which started on July 1st. The Minister, Ms. Mavis Hawa Koomson, in a statement argued that “the closed season has been agreed on the basis of scientific evidence and stakeholder consensus to reduce excessive pressure and overexploitation of stocks in the marine sub-sector, which will help rebuild stocks of fish”.

Despite the consensus among different stakeholders on the need to protect broodstock from capture during the breeding season, fishers and women in the value chain of several fishing communities, including Jamestown, Elmina, Tema and Bortianor, have fiercely rejected this directive.

Jacob Tetteh, spokesman for fishermen at Bortianor landing beach, insisted the closed season must be ‘abolished’ despite admitting a drastic reduction in fish catches over the years.

“Fishermen’s work is not like government work, what they get is what they spend every day in the house. So how will they survive during this time? he argued.

“What will happen to all the women and their children who depend on the ocean for their livelihood? A loss of income for a single day affects the whole community.

The Minister of Fisheries did not respond to requests for comment.

Jacob Tetteh, spokesman for fishermen at Bortianor landing beach, shows a leaflet about a closed fishing season. Image courtesy of AL-Fattah. Ghana.

The world has already warmed more than 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, and last year the the oceans contained more thermal energy than at any time since record keeping began six decades ago.

According to a study published in the journal Science last Aprilif humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions continue and ocean temperatures continue to rise, about “a third of all marine animals could disappear within 300 years”.

Go forward

To reduce the vulnerability of the impact of climate change on the fisheries sector in Ghana, especially women in the value chain, Daniel Doku Nii Nortey, Deputy Director of Coastal Resources NGO Hen Mpoano, recommended a retraining and skills development program for fishers and women processors.

The state must invest in “training programs for alternative livelihoods such as soap making, hairdressing, sewing, etc. in coastal communities,” Daniel said. “These will help families diversify their sources of income.”

For the many fishermen and women in Ghana’s coastal communities, the struggle for survival stares them in the face every morning.

“It’s a hopeless situation,” said fishmonger Janet Mensah, who inherited the business from her mother more than 20 years ago.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me and my children in this profession, all of this no longer makes sense to me. We need help.”

Janet Mensah fish shop in Bortianor. Image courtesy of AL-Fattah. Ghana.
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