Drama yesterday unfolded at a news conference organised by the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council (GNFC) in Accra, to kick against the timeline announced by the government for this year’s closed season.
In what could be described as an internal wrangling, a section of the council openly opposed the group’s stance and intermittently interrupted proceedings after delaying the start of the conference for close to 30 minutes.
The dissenting section, based at areas including Jamestown, La and Osu, in Accra, who wore white bands, endorsed the May timeline, stating that it was most favourable than the July one proposed by the group.
However, the heated arguments and chanting, which compelled some journalists to threaten to boycott the conference, did not stop the organisers from sending their message across.
Government, last month, announced May 15 to June 15, 2019 as dates for the closed season to enable the country’s territorial waters replenish its depleting fish stock.
The depleting stocks, estimated to cost the country losses of several millions annually, is as a result of Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing practices.
The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Elizabeth Afoley Quaye, announcing the timeline said it was agreed upon after extensive consultation and stakeholder engagements.
The ban on fishing was postponed from 2018 to 2019 following concerns expressed by players in the industry including insufficient consultation and unfavourable timeline.
Explaining the council’s opposition to this year’s timeline, Nii Abeo Kyerekuandah IV, the executive secretary clarified that the council was not against the closed season but the declared timeline.
He said the council did not understand why the ministry chose a different timeline aside July 1 to July 31, 2019 provided by a scientific and technical working group, made up of eminent fish scientists.
He stated that the 13-member group , chaired by Prof. Dr Kobina Yankson of the University of Cape Coast , had representation from National Fisheries Association of Ghana, Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council , Ghana Industrial Trawlers Association and Ghana Inshore Fishers Association.
Others, Nii Kyerekuandah IV, said, were from Fisheries Commission, University of Ghana, National Fish Processors and Traders Association, Hen Mpoano and Friends of the Nation, two non-governmental organisations.
He said the stakeholders determined the timeline based on “Best Scientific Information/Evidence available” in line with Fisheries Act 2002(Act 625) and the Code of Ethics for Responsible Fisheries.
He said the scientific evidence which led to the determination of the timeline was meticulously discussed at a forum before the date was “unanimously accepted for adoption.”
Nii Kyerekuandah IV pointed out that according to the working group, the July timeline would result in an impact of 20 per cent or more as compared to the May timeline of which the impact is pegged at five per cent or less.
Casting doubt that the Fisheries Ministry held any stakeholders meeting on the May timeline, he challenged the ministry to provide evidence including records of meeting proceedings, names and credentials of stakeholders and inputs at the said stakeholders meeting the ministry had.
While at it, he asked the ministry to concentrate on resolving more pressing fisheries issues, including the use of increasing number of trawlers and activities of transhipment of fish on high seas, locally known as Saiko.
He said it was estimated that almost 100,000 metric tonnes of fish were landed illegally through Saiko in 2017 alone, accuring a loss of about $ 50million revenue to the state.
Efforts to seek explanation from the sector ministry were unsuccessful as the paper was informed that the Minister, the Chief Director and the head of the Fisheries Commission who could speak on the issue were out of the country.
BY JONATHAN DONKOR