Fishers Become Researchers in Fight to Restore Stocks
In Ghana, fisheries plays a major role in the country’s socio-economic development. Fish has long been the preferred and cheapest source of animal protein with about 75% of total annual production consumed locally. Ghanaians eat an average of 20-25 kg of fish per person per annum — higher than the world average of 13 kg. As much as 65% of animal protein in the Ghanaian diet is thought to be from fish.
Yet in the last 10 years, stocks of four key fish stocks in Ghana’s waters have declined by 23%.To help revive the fishery, researchers and scientists must first understand more about the stocks. To conduct at-sea assessments, however, would require them to hire boats and crew — resources fishermen already have.
Through a USAID Feed the Future Initiative, Ghana intends to rebuild a collapsing fishery to reduce poverty and hunger. The Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP), in partnership with a sister project of the University of Cape Coast and a Science and Technical Working Group, has trained local fishermen to help understand the fisheries — a critical first step in reversing the decline. This collaborative team approach of technical and non-technical members helps fishers — often excluded from such processes — to experience firsthand science-based decision-making and become part owners in the process.
To date, SFMP has trained 12 fishers, who record information during fishing expeditions without losing significant time from their fishing effort. As they haul their catch, fishers note the quantity of fish caught, size and sex, and for females, their egg maturity. All that’s needed is a filet knife, paper, pencil, and photos.
Raymond Annan is a fisherman from Sekondi and also a member of the collaborative fish research team. Now, as he hauls his catch, he records with hash marks on paper the number of fish he catches in each of the four key species. He cuts them open and records their sex, size, and maturity of the eggs if females. Raymond also takes photos.
This team approach and simple methodology is proving invaluable and plans are already underway to train another 20 fishermen toward the SFMP goal of 100 trained fishermen and women processors on the team by 2017. The collected data not only serves the SFMP science/technical team, but informs those implementing Ghana’s National Fisheries Management Plan; a plan signaling Ghana is serious about its fisheries crisis and committed to restore its health.
For the first time ever, fishermen are doing more than fish; they’re helping with research and decision-making on the future of Ghana fisheries.