Enforcement of fisheries laws: An essential means to sustainable fisheries

According to national fisheries statistics, Ghana’s fisheries sector has undergone a prohibitive decline in stocks over the last few years, threatening the uncertainties of fisherman’s livelihoods, coastal communities, and the nation’s economy. The key contributor to this decline is unsustainable fishing practices, including illegal fishing. This calls for immediate measures to improve the sustainability of the fisheries sector. Violators use fishery tools without notice of subsequent productivity over time, regardless of the many years of support from the government, agencies, scientists, and NGOs for the establishment of principles of sustainable management. Sustainable management relies on the value of conservation and management laws.

The Ghana Fisheries Laws frame of reference, while still undergoing revisions to ensure that emerging issues are addressed and that global standards are also followed up; many concerns are popping up. As government instigates on these reforms, the main question that runs through the minds of most actors is “how good and efficient have those laws fostered sustainable fishing practices so far?”.

In an engagement with the representative of the Omanhen at the Elmina Canoe and Fishermen’s Palace, Mr. Kofi Susu expressed, “Gone are the days when citizens used to put the interest of Ghana as their ultimate priority. But what do we see today?  We are all interested in our wellbeing, leaving behind the wellbeing of this country and that is what has butted in the fishing industry”. He added, “whatever challenges the industry is facing balls down to the weak enforcement of the fisheries regulations”. According to him, the definite way to fend for an encouraging future for the sector depends on the level of enforcement.

An interaction with Mr. Kofi Susu, a Canoe Owner and a Rep. of the Omanhen at Chief Fisherman’s Office, Elmina /Credit: Eunice Osei-Yeboah
An interaction with Mr. Kofi Susu, a Canoe Owner and a Rep. of the Omanhen at Chief Fisherman’s Office, Elmina /Credit: Eunice Osei-Yeboah

The two main legitimate frameworks exercised by the government to manage the fishery sector are; the Fisheries Act 625, of 2002, and Fisheries Regulation (L.I. 1968) of 2010. However, the Navy, the police, and the courts are equipped to put these laws into effect. Apart from the fact that rules and legislation are completely committed to the document, they are less compelled to follow their meaning without any form of compliance, so the law must be implemented efficiently and effectively.

A report in 2004 by The Center for Conservation and Government at Conservation International on Strengthening the Weakest Links: Strategies for Improving the Enforcement of Environmental Laws Globally, indicated that, compliance is a “chain” that requires subsequent intervention. By way of clarification, strong compliance requires not only good identification but also successful investigation, detention, prosecution, and conviction of lawbreakers, and the implementation of sanctions where applicable. This alludes to the fact that a compliance framework can successfully minimize violations if each of these measures is carried out effectively.

 For this reason, strengthening only one part of this “chain” will not succeed as long as other pronounced weaknesses exist; a typical reflection of what is seen in Ghana’s fisheries sector.

Course of Action

Improving compliance would eliminate or reduce illegal fishing activities to a reasonable level. Although we recognize sustainability as a country, there should be no political interference in the implementation and enforcement of fisheries laws and regulations. Based on personal communication with some of the fishermen and key players in the industry, the implementation of fisheries legislation and the prosecution of those who violate them are undermined by political elites.

Factor 6 of the World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index which examines how regulations are implemented and enforced emphasizes that, a strong rule of law requires that regulations and administrative provisions are enforced effectively. According to section 6.1 of the index, the regulations should be applied and enforced without improper influence by public officials or private interests. When all these measures are properly executed, the enforcement of the fisheries laws could be an essential means to safeguard the long-term sustainability of Ghana’s fishery. The time is now!

BY Eunice Osei-Yeboah | Member: Sustainable Ocean Alliance Ghana

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