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Ghana: Artisanal fishers blame dwindling fish stock on changes in climate & IUU activities

Kobina Atta has been fishing in Sekondi on the western coast of Ghana since age 20. Now at 51, he complains about the changes in the seasons, rise in sea level, and dwindling stock of fishes, having a toll on his livelihood.

“These days, the seasons have changed, we cannot differentiate between the Harmattan and the rainy seasons. It can rain today and in the next minute, the sun will be blazing. This really disrupts our activities,” he said.

This, he believes, has brought in its wake an increasing decline in fish stock and catch as fishing boats often returned from sea almost empty.

Atta, like many other artisanal fishers, has a strong conviction that changes in the climate is one of the driving forces behind the phenomenon.

Ghana’s Fisheries Sector

According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture there are more than two million people in Ghana, or around 10 per cent of the population, who rely directly on fishing and related activities for their livelihoods.

A report published by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) in 2018 said Ghana accounts for about 11 per cent of the total artisanal canoes in West Africa with small-scale fishing employing around 80 per cent of all fishers in the country.

The EJF said widespread illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and destructive practices such as the use of dynamite, monofilament nets, DDT, and light, continually cause irreplaceable damage to marine ecosystems.

The Impact of Climate Change

In Ghana, ocean warming and acidification, arguably the two most dramatic effects of climate change on oceanographic conditions, are already wreaking havoc on those who make their living from the sea.

This is coupled with widespread IUU fishing, which spans from indiscriminate use of chemicals and explosives by canoe fishermen to increasing light fishing by both small-scale and tuna vessels.

Most fishermen complain that surface water fishes appear to be disappearing with reduction in the sizes of the fishes, attributing it to the changes in the marine environment.

The rise in sea levels has also resulted in coastal erosion, high tides in recent times, tidal waves affecting fishers, and storms making fishers unable to go for fishing expeditions as they wished.

“Nowadays we have noticed some changes in the sea. We have realised that the seawater has become warmer than it used to be,” said Atta.

Another fisherman, Samuel Tetteh, who has been fishing since age 15, said: “These days the fishes do not stay at the surface of the sea, they go deep down. You know for us in artisanal fishing, we have to see the fishes before we cast our nets, so sometimes we have to go long hours before we can see some fishes and cast our nets”.

At age 41, Tetteh said though climate change was a contributory factor, it could not be solely blamed for the decline in fish stock and mentioned engagement in light fishing among other IUU practices as other factors.

“The concentration of carbonic acid at the surface of the seawater makes it uncomfortable for fishes to stay at the surface. The fish now prefer to stay at the bottom than at the surface,” he said.

Another challenge has to do with the rise in sea levels, which the fishermen say is destroying many coastal lands.

“Sometimes we are unable to go to sea because of the high tides. We believe that the tidal waves as we have been witnessing in recent times are all as a result of changes in the climate,” Mr Tetteh said.

Nana Kweigya is a fisherman at Anomabo in the Central Region and the Chairman of the Canoe and Fishing Gear Owners Association of Ghana.

He said climate change is impacting negatively on artisanal fishing.

“Climate change has affected fisheries and continues to affect small-scale fisheries especially. There are pieces of evidence that point to the fact that it has increased acidity of the seawater and has, in turn, affected the production of fish,” he said.

Nana Kweigya said the sizes of fish had reduced and also believed that they were all as a result of global warming and climate change.

That, he said, had affected fish production because many of the eggs were destroyed long before they matured, resulting in a decline in fish stock.

Nana Kweigya explained that it was the reason fishermen had resulted to using light to attract fish before they cast their net.

“General I will say climate change is negatively impacting on fishing and limiting access to fish by artisanal fishers,” he said, and called for serious discussions on how to mitigate the impact of climate change on fishing and related activities.

However, in contrast, Mr. Socrates Segbor, the Fisheries Programmes Manager of EJF, believes that there are not enough scientific data to prove that climate change is impacting fishing.

Though he did not rule out its possible negative impact, he said the stories of the fishermen remained their opinion until they were scientifically proven.

For him, the lack of scientific data about the impact of climate change gave people the opportunity to speculate and lux about what to do to address the issues of IUU.

He, therefore, appealed to Ghana’s Fisheries Commission and other academic institutions to undertake scientific research on the impact of climate change in the fisheries sector to confirm or reject the opinions of the fishermen.

This report was supported with a micro grant from SOA Ghana

Report by Afedzi Abdullah | SOA Ghana Member

Climate Change

Iddrisu Zakaria writes: How Pollution of the White Volta River threatens Aquatic life

Nawuni is a small community located in the Kumbungu District of the Northern Region and a 45-minute drive from the regional capital Tamale.

The White volta, one of the longest rivers in Ghana passes through this community whose inhabitants are largely Ewes with pockets of Dagombas. The main economic activities in this community is fishing and vegetable farming.

The water serves as a huge source of livelihood for the people in the community and a home to treatment plants of the Ghana Water Company Limited which currently supplies three million gallons of water every day to five districts including the Sagnarigu Municipality and the Tamale Metropolis.

Despite its strategic location and importance to the people of the Northern Region, the community is fraught with a lot of challenges.

Beyond the perennial floods, lies an enormous sanitation challenge that appears overlooked but continues to pose unimaginable threats to the people. With some 84 households and nearly three thousand people, the community has no single public or household toilet facility and no proper means of disposing liquid or solid waste.

As a result, residents have resorted to desecrating the very body that holds the means to their livelihood as they openly defecate and throw rubbish indiscriminately into the White Volta River. Stand on the bank of the mighty Volta and scenes that greet you will be the sight of sacks of rèfuse, plastic bottles and human excreta wrapped in plastic bags. Very often, men are seen defecating into the river from their boats.

It is unsurprising that as per statistics available at the Dalun Health Center, a nearby community where the residents go to seek treatment, cholera has become the most prevalent condition in Nawuni.

Fishing which is also a source of livelihood is also under threat as the constant pollution of the river has diminished its fishing stock. Mohammed Habib is a fisherman. He knows the river like the back of his palm as he fished in it with his father since the age of five but as his dad becomes old and too frail to take the boat, Habib, for half a decade now, has been paddling the boat and casting the nets to provide for a family of six including himself, his wife whom he took not too long ago, his father and two younger siblings. I met him at the river bank with a heap of worms gathered before him that he cuts into pieces to fix into hooks in preparation for an expedition.

He said to me that a good catch could fetch him 200 Cedis in a day but the problem is they have been experiencing dwindling fortunes in recent years. He pointed to an empty space further upstream and said women usually come all the way from Tamale to wait for them there and to buy their fresh fish but the table has turned as the unfavourable fortunes means the women don’t come anymore and they now have to go wherever the traders are to sell to them, a situation that has also turned pricing out of their favour. Asked whether the low catch could be

attributed to the incessant pollution of the White Volta, Habib replies in the affirmative. He said like humans, fish cannot thrive in the dirt.

“Fish and people are the same. They don’t like dirty things but every day we come and throw rubbish in this water, we do toilet in it and they eat them and may die even before we catch them,” Habib noted.

Peter Agbavor known popularly as Soldier, apart from fishing also operates an engine boat that ferries people across to communities beyond the river. He confirms to me all that has been said by Habib. He said before they virtually were casting their nets behind their homes but for the constant pollution which has diminished the fish stock, they now are forced to travel farther in their boats to fish and this sometimes means passing the night in the Volta. Soldier, also lamented the disposal of rubbish in the river is not only detrimental to aquatic life but to themselves as sometimes their nets are destroyed when instead of trapping fish, they trap sacks of rèfuse, bags of faecal matter and Others. He appealed that authorities build for them household latrines and place rèfuse containers at vantage points to enable the proper disposal of solid waste.

Iddrisu, SOA Ghana Fellow travels on the White Volta

Assembly Member for Nawuni Electoral Area, Hon. Alhassan Yussif, said the poor sanitation situation remains a bigger challenge and something he does not sleep over. He disclosed that relentlessly he has pursued the Kumbungu District Assembly to intervene and to help his people overcome the sanitation challenge but has always been met with one excuse or another.

For the pollution of the White Volta, he revealed that engineers of the Ghana Water Company have complained severally to him to tell his electorates to stop disposing waste into the river as the cost for treating and distribution of raw water has more than tripled. He tells me that he and his people have no option than to defecate and throw waste into the river as they have no other ways to rid their community of filth.

The Assembly Member concludes our interview by appealing to benevolent individuals, groups and NGOs to come to the rescue of his people.

Report by  Iddrisu Zakaria | SOA Ghana Fellow

Climate & Ocean Action News SOA Ghana Fellows

Bless Aglago writes: The plastic menace in Ghana and the journey forward

Plastic pollution has become one of the biggest environmental hazards facing many countries today and Ghana’s ocean ecosystem has not been spared of its wrath.

Ghana alone generates about 1.1 million tone of plastic waste per year, of which only 5% recycled according to the World Economic Forum.

Is there not any action plan by government, non-governmental and individual to reduce the plastic waste pollution? What are the causes, possible preventions and its health complication? Did you know the enormous of mass plastic in the ocean made it to be called the 7th continent, meaning in years to come, there will be more plastic than fishes in the sea.

Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic waste in our society or community that has to do with cigarette, bottle cups, polythene bags etc.  These accumulation affect health, wildlife habitat, and humans. The sea, beaches, rivers and land of our environment are filled with plastic waste and that pave way for my story

Plastic pollution has become common in our society today especially those that live around the coastal areas such Nungua, Anloga, keta and among many others. But is it only the people living in that area that get the environment polluted by plastics and others? What is our ocean turning into? Marine pollution everywhere. What has the EPA done so far about it because in years to come there will be water scarcity due to non-stop pollution.

As a result of improper waste disposal, plastic waste from the various communities ends up in our water bodies which at the ends affect our health and the lives of fishes. The United Nations Environment Program estimate that about 15 trillion particles of micro plastic are existing in the ocean whilst 12.7 million tons of plastic waste are washed into the ocean yearly which means marine species are at danger of indigestion, suffocation and others. Thus seabirds and turtles are at higher risk always (Mambra 2020, Reddy 2018).


Negligence; It is estimated that 80% of marine or sea litter and waste comes from land. Meaning humans are responsible for this plastic waste due to improper recycling of household waste which ends up in the ocean by wind and rain.

Secondly, natural disaster; this has to do with floods that are caused by choked gutters and improper disposable of waste that are swept into the ocean.

Fishing nets; since towns located around the coastal areas does nothing than commercial fishing it has become necessity for most part of the world to depend on fish to get the right amount of diet for their living. But at the end of the day, this commercial has contributed to plastic pollution in the ocean such that the net used in fishing is made of plastic and affect the life of marine fishes or animals


Health of human; the seafood that are eaten now and then are contaminated by plastics that end up in the ocean. According to scientists, micro plastic of 114 are found within the species of marine where 1/3 of these foods ends on the plates of human before consuming. And unfortunately, some people do not take their time in preparing this foods before consumed into our body especially the food vendors which end up affecting our health.

According to WHO in 2018 research conducted, 90% of micro plastics are found in bottle water in regards to the fact some of these plastics are picked from seashores and recycled into re-usable ones without any treatment hence water poured into this bottles are contaminated at the end of the day.

wildlife; plastics that finds their way into the ocean affect the habitat of fishes and wildlife in the ocean, sometimes, this marine animals get trapped in the various fishing net which affect their insecurity of living. due to many plastic particles that find their way into the ocean, it is unsafe for these wildlife to continue living at one place hence they keep moving from place to the other which at the end of the day, affect fishing practices.

lastly, it makes our beaches and seashore dirty; since the sea does not anything into itself, any plastic that enters the oceans find their way out at the shores that makes the surrounding unclean and affect the health those living around.

Possible measures or solution

Education; there is there need for more education to be done in order to educate people on how to handle plastic waste and proper disposal. Restaurants can also be educated concerning how their packaging etc. single use can help reduce the impact of plastic pollution in Ghana especially the capital city.

Also government policies; the policies that brought out by government should favor the least person in the society. The implementation and enforcing of country-wide policy. Either to ban or re-use policy such as pure water plastics bags, shopping bags and others.

Increased in recycling; plastics should be recycled properly without leaving any. Everything plastic should be recycled wit available machines. There can be alternative technology introduction that can help in recycling.

Producer responsibility; this has to do with producers being accountable for plastic waste on our environment. There should be regulation of re-usage and compulsory take back programs.

 Article by Bless Aglago | 2021 SOA Ghana Fellow

Climate & Ocean Action Climate Change Home News SOA Ghana Fellows

Charles Faseyi writes: How pollution threatens the livelihoods of coastal communities in Ghana

Pollution is the introduction of harmful substances into the environment. These substances have adverse effects on the environment and humans who live within the environment. The main sources of pollution in Ghana are improper waste disposal, sewage disposals, open defecation and gold mining especially the menace known as galamsey (illegal gold mining).

The coastal area of Ghana is home to several ecosystems which provide several services to the people living in the area. These ecosystems include the mangrove ecosystem, lagoons, estuaries, beaches, and the sea. Coastal communities depend on the services which could be provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural from these ecosystems. The benefits from these ecosystems form the livelihoods of these coastal communities. Livelihood as described by Wikipedia is “a means of securing the basic necessities of life”. These activities encompass the benefits of the environment to the coastal communities and these could be threatened and severely impacted when the environment is no more conducive or healthy due to pollution.

Environmental pollution is a major threat to the sustainability of people’s livelihoods. “If your environment is healthy, the means to meet your needs would be readily available”. Any activity distorting these services or benefits would have some impact on the livelihood of the people. The levels of these impacts on their livelihood are proportional to the magnitude of the pollution.  “Our environment defines our well-being and if the environment is sick (unhealthy), the humans in the environment would be sick”. There is an unavoidable synchronization of a man’s health with his environment. A man can never be dis-synchronized from his environment,- “what goes around comes around”. If you treat your environment well, your environment will treat you well in return.

This menace called “pollution” is attributed to the action of individuals/entities who make use of the environment in an unsustainable way, thereby introducing pollutants into the environment.  Some of the actions that result in pollution in the coastal area of Ghana are discussed below;

  1. Gold mining

Ghana is known to be the largest gold producer in Africa after South Africa. Gold mining in Ghana was the reason the country was named “Gold Coast”. The sector according to the International Trade Administration in the year 2020 has since attracted international investment since the country’s Economy Recovery Programme in 1983. The sector accounts for about one-third of the revenues generated from exportations and also contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. About 95% of the total mineral revenue by the country is from the gold mining sector.

Gold mining is however a threat to the environment where they are done. Lands are been degraded due to the mining activities and as a result several endemic species of both flora and fauna are lost. The majority of the water bodies in Ghana especially water bodies in the Western and Ashanti regions are seriously threatened by the mining activities. The water bodies have been rendered uinhabitable to aquatic life and their use by humans for their livelihood activities has greatly been affected. Of the three-river system in Ghana (the Coastal, Volta, and South-western River system), the Volta-river system appears to have less share of the impacts of the mining activities. The Southwestern Rivers (Pra and Ankobra) are seriously impacted and are unfit for any use as the mining activities have led to the siltation of the water bodies resulting in aesthetic impairment and benthic habitat destruction. Several species of shell and finfishes are no more found in the rivers. In an interaction with the people of Anlo (Shama district) community, they said  “we do harvest oysters in our waters before, but now oysters are no more here”.

The people of Anlo previously depended on the water from the Pra River as groundwater in the coastal areas is saline due to seawater intrusion. Now, they struggle with good water supply for their daily activities. “We cook and drink the water in the past, but now we cannot even use the water to wash our clothes not to think of cooking and drinking it” the people of Anlo expressed bitterly.

Furthermore, in countries where aquaculture and mariculture are practiced, the rivers and other coastal waters are very important in the industry, but in the case of Ghana, the industry is experiencing serious challenges from water pollution due to mining activities. The adjacent ocean and estuaries are not left out, as the quality of these water bodies is degraded and made uninhabitable or unconducive for aquatic life. This therefore has implications on the fishery industry as fishermen who are used to fishing in the coastal waters have to travel far (to other communities), move farther into the sea, or migrate to other countries for fishing, costing them much. For instance, going farther into the sea requires the purchase of inshore vessels or industrial vessels. In cases where these options are beyond their reach, they have been rendered jobless.

  1. Improper waste disposal

Improper waste disposal in the coastal areas has been a culture of so many in developing and underdeveloped countries. The case of Ghana is not different as communities along the coast are found disposing their wastes directly into water bodies without thinking about the implication of their actions. Mr. Kojo Nyamekye, a fisherman in Elmina said in an interview: “some of the wastes are being swept into the lagoon and the sea by the people while some of the wastes are brought from their homes and disposed into the sea”. In some areas, people dispose of their waste directly into drainages and when it rains, the waste is washed into rivers and other water bodies. Some of these wastes end up blocking drainages and lead to flooding of the communities. These wastes are from both domestic and industrial sources. Plastic and other polymers are major components of the wastes. Mr. Kwame Ackon, a fisherman and carpenter at the Elmina fish landing site confirmed that most of the wastes being caught along with fish were mainly plastics and other polymers. He added, “some people take wastes to the sea while others bring wastes from the sea in form of catch”.

Sewage and sludges are mostly disposed into water bodies as industries and residential homes see the water bodies as the most convenient place to dispose of their wastes. Several drainages are been channeled into the Benya lagoon and Fosu lagoon in Elmina and Cape Coast respectively. Recently Fosu lagoon was dredged to get rid of some wastes and allow fresh water to enter into the lagoon but waste disposal into and around the lagoon has not stopped. Toilets are channeled into some of these water bodies and fecal wastes are emptied directly into them.

  1. Open defecation.

Open defecation is the practice of defecating or excreting outside or in an open space instead of a toilet. These open spaces include beaches, bushes, canals, rivers, and other water bodies. It is a habit commonly seen among people living along the coasts and water bodies in developing countries like Ghana. Males and females come out in their numbers to defecate at the beach especially in the early hours of the day. As seen at Sawuma  (Nzema East, District), males and females have different sides of the beach where they do “their thing”. Women were seen using the secluded part of the beach while men use the open beach. Open defecation in the coastal communities is majorly caused by inadequate private and public toilet facilities and also some attitudes where some people preferred the open space than using the toilet facilities. Some of the people expressed, “we enjoy the fresh air or the breeze at the beach when defecating”. Another way that is quite different from using open space is “defecating into rubber bags, papers, and plastic containers and pouring them directly into the water”. Mangrove patches and bushes around lagoons are mostly used by the people as their toilets where they defecate whereas in some cases, pits are dung in the mangrove patches and their excreta are dropped into the pit. For people living around river estuaries, sometimes they directly do it into the water or dispose of it using plastic containers or rubber bags. Open defecation in the coastal areas has been linked to a lot of health issues and diseases like cholera, child mortality, poor nutrition, and poverty resulting from livelihood threats.

  1. Fertilizers and Harmful Chemicals

The use of chemicals in agricultural practices is widely done in Ghana. For example, the herbicides used in the clearing of lands, pesticides used in the fumigation of cash crops especially cocoa, pineapples, and watermelons. Some of the people interviewed in a survey at Anlo, Shama district, identified some of these chemicals as threats to their environment as they affect non-target organisms and sometimes they are washed into the water bodies. In response to this, Mr. Kojo Nyamekye said “some fishermen make use of chemicals when fishing in the sea and other coastal water bodies”. Many fishermen are engaged in destructive fishing using chemicals and detergents mixed with explosives in fishing in the country. The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) global outreach programme that was carried out recently by the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (University of Cape Coast) on educating the students of Ampenyi M/A Basic School on the theme “Environmental education towards the conservation of Biodiversity in the Brenu Lagoon Ghana”, students were asked in the course the programme the sources of pollution to Brenu Lagoon. It was surprising to hear a student mentioning Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). DDT is an insecticide used in agriculture that has been banned in the United States in 1972 but is still widely used in this part of the world with long-lasting adverse effects on the environment.  The insecticide is also used in the country in controlling mosquitoes. In addition, the use of fertilizers and other chemicals in agricultural and fishing practices has adverse effects on the environment as they pollute both surface and underground waters, and these elicit some health issues in the humans who directly or indirectly depend on them. Fish (es) caught with chemicals when consumed by humans could have both acute and chronic health effects.

Other effects of pollution threatening the coastal communities are:

  1. Degradation of water quality resulting in depleted fisheries.
  2. Decrease in aesthetics of water bodies and beaches, which negatively impacts tourism in the affected areas.
  3. Reduction in ecosystem services leading to a shortage of provisional services from the water bodies. For example, several fisher folks are experiencing a reduction in their income as a result of low fish catch, and sometimes, several amounts of investment are wasted as the fishermen returned from the sea with garbage in their nets.
  4. Loss of agricultural land for cocoa planting and other cash crops production in the western region of Ghana due to land degradation and habitat fragmentation.

Marine contamination is a major hazard to our ocean. Is there a solution to the problem of marine pollution?. Humans are both a part of the problem and the solution to ocean pollution, whether they live near the shore or far inland. We can all contribute to reducing the amount of pollution entering our oceans by changing our attitudes and everyday habits.

By Charles Faseyi | 2021 SOA Ghana Fellow

News SOA Ghana Fellows

SOA Ghana Hub Mentors: Prince Appiah

Prince Appiah is a development journalist and producer of multimedia story content. He currently works with , LUV FM and JOY NEWS TV, whose work spans agriculture, climate change, environment and business.

Prince heads the Business Desk at LUV FM in Kumasi of the Ashanti Region in Ghana. He is the 2019 winner of IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders Award in Agricultural Journalism.