Madam Sandra Akosaa Tawiah, Head of Legal and Prosecution, Tema Fishing Enforcement Unit (FEU), has called for the support of key stakeholders to punish perpetrators of fishing infractions.
She said contrary to perceptions that marine police and naval officers of the Unit were reluctant in enforcing fisheries laws, officers had been relentless in their efforts to prosecute people who engaged in Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing on Ghana’s waters.
Madam Tawiah said the challenge had always been lack of strong evidence and witnesses.
The Head of Legal and Prosecution said this in a presentation at an IUU multi-stakeholder platform meeting in Accra, to dialogue on issues of illegal fishing, the negative effects on the fishery industry, the challenges and successes thereof and charting ways to end the menace.
She said the Unit remained committed to duty, following up on complaints of infractions from fisher folks, but just when the cases were taken up, the complainants backed off giving excuses such as name calling and personal attacks, noting, “all these make continuation of the cases difficult,” explaining that the success of prosecution depended on witnesses and solid evidence, which complainants failed to provide in most cases.
Madam Tawiah gave instances of successful arrest of defaulters, court trial of cases mostly involving foreign trawlers and out of court settlements where offenders were prosecuted and fined and asked that people helping to prosecute cases should, “confide in us if you feel threatened,” for protection so that together, the fight against IUU fishing could be won.
She warned IUU monitoring groups not to attempt stopping offenders on the waters but rather alert FEU officials to make the arrests to avoid dangers including death and possible charges of robbery and other offences citing a similar case pending before a court in Tema.
Madam Tawiah also called for higher fines to serve as deterrence while urging politicians, opinion leaders and influential people in communities to stop pleading for offenders saying, that amounted to interference with the processes, which could embolden the wrongdoers to commit more infractions.
Mr Alex Sabah, Control, Monitoring and Surveillance, Fisheries Commission gave the impact of IUU on fishing to include unfair competition, depletion of the fish stock, destruction of marine ecosystem and poverty and said though the Commission had made some gains at combating the menace, the many challenges it was fraught with kept hindering progress.
Mr Scott Apawudza, Volta Region Director, Fisheries Commission commended the consortium CARE (the lead), Friends of the Nation (FoN) and Oxfam implementing the EU funded four-year fisheries governance project ‘Far Ban Bo’ (protecting the fishing livelihoods) and called for the support of other stakeholders to address the challenges of unsustainable fishing practices.
He said there was the need for self-compliance from fishers to stop IUU fishing because apart from the possible collapse of the industry, Ghana could be sanctioned, such that fishery resources from the country would not be allowed onto international markets.
Nana Kwesi Agyeman IX, Paramount Chief, Lower Dixcove, advised the national leadership of fisher groups to employ the services of experts and in collaboration with the traditional authority, make their challenges known to the appropriate authorities for redress, underscoring the need for new ways to sustain the industry, “before it collapses on your head because that’s your profession.”