The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working to protect the environment, has called on the Government of Ghana to as a matter of urgency crackdown on illegal transshipment trade known as Saiko on the Ghanaian waters.
The practice, it said, was costing the country millions of dollars in revenue and threatening food security and coastal livelihoods.
“Saiko” is a destructive form of illegal fishing, where foreign trawlers target the main catch of Ghanaian canoe fishers, transfer it at sea to specially adapted boats, and sell this stolen fish back to local communities at a profit.
In 2017 alone, Saiko catches sold amounted to, between US$40.6 and 50.7 million and the ones sold at the landing site US$52.7 to 81.1 million.
According to Ghana’s fisheries laws, Saiko is punishable by a fine of between US$100,000 and US$2million, with the minimum fine increasing to US$1million where catches involve juvenile fish or the use of prohibited fishing gears.
To serve as a deterrent for potential offenders, EJF said it was imperative that at least the minimum fine set out in the law be strictly imposed and enforced to the later without fear or favour.
“When sanctions are given out, they are inconsistent and weak. For instance, the statutory minimum fine for use of illegal nets and landing juveniles under Ghana’s 2014 Fisheries Amendment Act is US$1million, yet there are numerous cases of vessels refusing to pay or paying lower sums and then being re-licensed to continue fishing,” the NGO noted in its recent report on Saiko.
The report said although saiko transshipment, under-size mesh nets, and landing juveniles were considered illegal practices, as clearly laid out in Ghanaian laws, they were often allowed to continue unchecked.
It was therefore demanding that a thorough inspections of the landings of industrial trawlers were carried out to ensure they were only targeting species of the type and size dictated by their license, and that the landed fish were above the minimum legal size.
Commenting on the report, Mr Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, said in a time when the world was facing Coronavirus, stable livelihoods and food security were even more crucial than before.
“Ghana’s fisheries are in crisis, with the country now forced to import half of its fish needs and canoe fisher-folk coming home from sea empty handed.
“The state is losing millions of dollars every year in revenue. The government has the ability to stop this illegal and highly damaging activity now, and it must act to do so without delay,” he said.
The report also urged the government to be committed to banning all domestic and international vessels found to be engaging in Saiko from operating in Ghanaian waters, while immediate investigation be conducted into all suspected cases of Saiko fishing to prosecute offenders transparently through the judicial process.
It said thorough inspections of the landings of industrial trawlers must be carried out to ensure that they were only targeting species of the type and size dictated by their license, and that the landed fish were above the minimum legal size.