Last week, the country’s Fisheries Enforcement Unit intercepted an alleged saiko canoe loaded with tons of frozen fish.
Saiko, originally an informal trading system where unwanted industrial bycatch would be exchanged at sea for fruit and livestock brought by canoes, is now a part of targeted fishing for trawlers in Ghanaian waters. Not only illegal, it puts industrial fishing vessels in direct competition with small-scale fishers for catches of species such as sardinella that are a staple food for local communities. Having effectively “stolen” fish from canoe fishers, saiko operators sell these back to the same fishing communities for profit, says EJF.
Images taken by the Fisheries Enforcement Unit reveal the sheer volume of fish that may be transported in a saiko canoe – an average saiko trip lands 26 tons of fish, the equivalent of around 400 traditional artisanal canoe trips. The photos also show that many of the fish intercepted in last week's enforcement action appear to be juveniles – often true for saiko catches – which undermines the ability of the fish stocks to recover from overfishing.
The owner and crew of the saiko canoe intercepted have been arrested. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and local NGO Hen Mpoano say suitable sanctions must be imposed not only on the saiko canoe owner, but also the operators and owners of the industrial trawl vessel that caught the fish. Saiko is illegal under Ghanaian law, attracting a fine of between $100,000 and $2 million. The minimum fine increases to $1 million where catches involve juvenile fish or the use of prohibited fishing gear.
“This is essential work on the part of the Ghanaian government and follows the positive steps already taken this year to stop saiko, such as placing observers on vessels,” says EJF Deputy Director Max Schmid. “All trawlers are now subject to satellite monitoring, with human observers also present. Along with information from the owner and crew of the saiko canoe, it will be possible to identify the industrial vessel and to hold those responsible to account.”
EJF and Hen Mpoano urge the authorities to be fully transparent in the conduct of this case, and to ensure that the outcome, including the sanctions imposed and the amount paid, are published on the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development website.