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Impact Of Oil Exploration On Fishing In Western Region Of Ghana

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The Government of Ghana and other major stakeholders in the fishing industry may have to adopt a holistic approach in solving the numerous problems bedeviling fishermen in the country.

These problems ranging from illegal methods of fishing and over capacity as a result of influx of Chinese industrial vessels in Ghana’s territorial waters, government is importing about 60 percent of fish stock to feed the ever growing demand of fish by its people.

The path to solving the problem has always been a banter between government and fishermen.

Whiles government wages a relentless war on the use of unapproved means of catching fish, local fishermen have laid the blame squarely on government for the unbridled license of foreign vessels that have no regard for the country’s laws.

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Fishermen at Axim are calling on government and other stakeholders like the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and the Navy to intervene in the oil exploration at the Jubilee Field to safeguard the fishing industry.

The fishermen say apart from the Chinese trawlers that are hampering local expedition, the operations at the oil field has adversely affected their catch.

Ato Kwamina, a fisherman explains, "since the commencement of its operations within our Inshore Exclusion Zones, there has been a drastic reduction in fish catch as a result of lighting and flaring. It is the oil that has destroyed the sea. Before they started drilling the oil, they came to meet us and told us their operations will disturb our work, but we didn't think deep. Unfortunately, what they said is what we are witnessing."

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Fishing community along the coast of western region of Ghana

In December 2010, Ghana became the latest African nation to join the petroleum club with a lot of excitement and a promise of job opportunities and economic boost; but barely a decade after the discovery, Kofi Mensah says they underestimated the impact of the oil discovery on their activities.

The offshore oil industry impacts fishing. Offshore drilling rig structures, as well as their powerful lights, attracts fish. The problem in Ghana however is that, the area around the jubilee field drilling operations is off-limits to fishermen.

Atta Papa, a canoe owner explains, "fish is always attracted by light. The oil operators have mounted heavy light up sea, beyond our reach. When the fish is swimming down, they stop at where the lights are. When we try to get closer, we are beaten and abused by the navy, so we are unable to go there. That's why we are suffering, especially those of us from Axim to Half Assini."

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Fishermen are angry about the 500-meter no-fishing zone around the Jubilee field. They claim powerful, 24-7 lighting on the Kwame Nkrumah FPSO, the refitted tanker that serves as the oil storage and off-loading vessel, compels fish to venture into the no-go zone.

Mensah Ackom, another fisherman says those who work on the rigs under the water poison the fish in order to have access to the rigs. "At the beginning of the exploration, the people came to tell us that it will affect us and truly, we have deeply been affected. Because when they go under water to work, there are a lot of fish that surround their machines under the water, so they spray the fish with chemicals. The fish is killed in the water and so the seabed stinks which prevent the live ones from swimming to where we will get them. Again, they have flared up so much light so the fish do not even get to our operational zones. They don't come down. We are suffering a lot," Mensah Ackom bemoaned.

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Fishing communities along the coast of western region of Ghana

The jubilee field, approximately 60 km off the country’s coast, was the first deep-water oil development project.

Meanwhile, new oil finds off Ghana’s coast have been announced. New drill sites are being opened, leading to more no-fishing zones, more tanker traffic and increased environmental risk.

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Mary Ama Bawa speaking to women in fishing communities 

The fishermen fear their livelihood is gradually being taken from them. They are therefore appealing to government to make a quick intervention before disaster strikes.

'‘We are pleading with government. We can't ask that the exploration be stopped because it is through this that the nation gets money. But we are asking that government should give us the support so that we can have enough catch as it used to be. If it's possible, government should ensure that the light are brought down to our reach so that we can have access to the fish. At the moment, the location of the fish is beyond our zone." They said.

The fishermen at Axim say all the directives given by government for them to halt all forms of illegal fishing methods have been adhered to, arguing that the depleting fish stock cannot be as a result of their doing.

Source : Mary Ama Bawa / ATL FM News