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Closed Season: The woes of women and children in fishing communities



The din of brisk fishing activity greets anyone who ventures onto the landing beach at Jamestown the Greater Accra Region and in coastal regions all over Ghana.

The fishermen haul nets with fish from the boats, while the women take up the sale of fish from January to December.

But not so in July, when the beaches are deserted and safe from the rolling waves, when not much is going on because the accepted one-month closed season comes off while placing a ban on fishing activities.

Indeed, the closed season observation is part of Ghana’s Sustainable Fisheries Management to help salvage the country’s depleting fish stock which will not only benefit the State but the fisher folks by providing a sustainable ocean for them.

During the closed season, children loiter on the beach, fishermen idle around, and some play draft to pass the time because fishing is their only source of livelihood. And with no alternative work at home, money is scarce, and conflict ensues as mothers and children demand basic needs.

Without the routine fish business in the fishing communities, life becomes tough, provision of bread and butter a ‘world war’. The life of artisanal fishermen stops during closed season as they wait for the ban to be lifted after a month.

Ataa Amarh, a fisherman at James Town, narrates an argument he had with his wife in July last year over housekeeping money.

He said: “My wife, Auntie Aku, sells the catch at the landing beach and smokes the leftovers for consumption at home. She saves some of the profit and hands over the sales to me. I give her money for daily upkeep. But during the closed season, I couldn’t provide for the house, there was neither fish nor money.”

Madam Lankai, a fishmonger at Tema, said, her husband abandoned her and their five children and fled to Côte d’Ivoire to fish during the closed season. He left no money for their upkeep, and she single-handedly provided for their children until he returned after the closed season.

She told the GNA that the economic conditions during closed season fuels transactional sex as women and girls sleep with men for money to pay for their daily needs.

“The situation of our husbands traveling for fishing expeditions in neighboring countries during the closure is a sad one. I learned some women who cannot bear the hardships push their young daughters to sleep with men for money,” she said.

Auntie Koshie, also a fishmonger, said, she had a serious conflict with her husband during the closed season especially when it was first introduced in 2019 as it brought a break on their only means of survival.

“As a couple, we have our issues as far as marriage is concerned and have been managing so far, but the closed season worsened the situation. My husband, out of frustration, easily gets irritated and abuses me sometimes when I make demands from him.”

And to avoid this kind of abuse between us, Auntie Koshie resorted to refrigerating enough fish and smoking some for selling and consumption anytime the season draws closer.

Even though the stock gets finished a few weeks after, I manage the money from the sales until the period is finally over, and activities come back to normal, she said.

Just as it was reported that women and children faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, some women during the closed season also experienced increased Gender Base Violence cases but were reduced when the season ended in previous years.

It is important to note that before the introduction of the closed season, fishermen in Ghana, have an age-long tradition of not fishing on Tuesdays to allow the sea to rest – the practice is still done in some coastal areas if not all.

The annual intervention, which began in 2019, by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, saw the one-month closure of the sea from July 1 to July 31, for artisanal and semi-industrial fishers and from July 1 to August 31, for industrial fishers.

The ban on fishing has been in force since 2019 except for 2020 when fishing activities were allowed all year round due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There had been over 12, 000 registered canoes being used by artisanal fishers, and in 2022, it had been reported that the compliance rate was high where just 38 canoes opposed the closed season.

Though the 2023 edition is still in progress, the Madam Mavis Hawa Koomson, Minister, of Fisheries and Aqua Culture Development, said, the ban has achieved a 97 per cent success rate with 50 canoes going against the directive.

The closure, according to the Ministry, was under Section 84 of the Fisheries Act, 2002 (Act 625) and is expected to help reduce fishing pressure on stocks when they are most productive in terms of allowing the fish to spawn and replace the lost ones due to fishing and other natural causes.

Statistics from the Ministry indicate that the level of fishing effort has exceeded sustainability levels because of overcapacity and weak enforcement of regulations which has led to overexploitation.

Experts, therefore, warned that should the trend of overfishing continue, the fish catch would continue to diminish, leading to stock depletion in Ghana’s waters.

According to the experts, the declining trend should not only be halted but reversed and overfishing should be reduced by as much as 50 per cent in both the industrial and artisanal fisheries sub-sectors to rebuild the fish stock.

According to a research report by the Fisheries Ministry, the decline in fish stock was a result of widespread illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and destructive practices such as the use of dynamite, monofilament nets, DDT, and light, among other things, continually cause irreplaceable damage to marine ecosystems.

To improve fisheries governance and address the challenges of the fisheries sector in Ghana specifically marine fisheries, MoFAD in 2015 and consultation with stakeholders, developed the Fisheries Management Plan of Ghana (Marine Fisheries Sector), 2015-2019 (FMP)

This measure of closure was therefore adopted by the Ministry to ensure the development of Ghana’s economy in the future and more importantly, the livelihood, health, nutrition, and food security of the about 2.7 million people who directly and indirectly depend on fishery.

A similar report by Earth Journalists Network, a global network of reporters working to improve the quantity and quality of environmental reporting, indicated that due to the challenges, the incomes of small-scale fishermen had dropped drastically in the last two decades, and the country is now forced to import more than half of the fish it consumes due to widespread illegalities on the Ghanaian waters.

The role of women and men in Ghana’s fishing industry is defined by traditional gendered roles. Men undertake fishing expeditions while women comprise the large share of people responsible for fish processing and marketing.

In addition, women are engaged in fishery-related activities close to the household and focus on small catches of highly nutritious fish for immediate household consumption and despite these predefined roles, some women own canoes and are financiers of fishing expeditions.

Although existing national legislation such as the Criminal Offences (Amendment) Act, 1998 (Act 554) protects the rights of women in seeking justice for the wrong done to them, lack of knowledge about this law inhibits women’s ability to defend their rights and demand protection from duty bearers.

Therefore, the foregoing factors have predisposed and led many women in fisheries to violent abuse and discrimination.

Research reports from Hen Mpoano, a non-governmental organization, indicated that the rise in GBV in fishing communities is attributed to the decline in fish stock, socio-cultural norms, lack of accountability among partners, poverty, and polygamous relationships.

Violence against women and girls is the most shameful human rights violation and the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture, or wealth.

If it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development, and peace.” (Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary-General,1999).

According to statistics from the Accra Regional Office of the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), as of August 2020, 31.9per cent of Ghanaian women faced at least one form of domestic violence physical, economic, psychological, social, or sexual.

In addressing the challenge, Miss Karimatu Anass, the Public Relations Officer of the Fisheries Ministry, said the government by way of intervention donated 15,000 bags of rice, 7,500 cartons of oil, and 6,000 fishing nets to fishing communities in 2021 and 2022 to four coastal regions of Ghana.

The regions that benefited include Greater Accra, Central, Volta, and Western to help reduce the effects of the closed season on the livelihoods of fisherfolks.

Ms Baviina Safia Musah, Gender, Equity, and Social Inclusion Advisor, Feed the Future Ghana Fisheries Recovery Activity, a USAID nongovernmental organization, told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in an interview that research had shown that anytime there was economic stress when income at home was reduced, it caused an increase in the incidence of GBV and the closed season brings zero income for fishers who depend solely on fishing.

“This, therefore, gives an idea that if even during normal times financial issues can cause an increase in GBV then it means that during the closed season, chances are high,” she stated.

She, however, noted that a recent study, currently at the draft stage awaiting review on the closed season, did not include GBV as part of the indicators accessed and as such could not say in specific terms the nature and form of these GBV cases as well as the actual data.

Mr Philip Tetteh, a fisherman, also in an interview admitted that he had heard of few cases of physical abuse during the period.

He described the act of some fishermen beating up their wives and denying their families their due as unfortunate and was totally against it.

He said though the food items that were distributed supported them in a way it did not solve their problems entirely, hence some fled the country to make ends meet.

Mr Tetteh explained that despite the positive impact of the closed season of increased catch after the ban was lifted, it did not last long.

He said to increase the fish catch, replenish the fish stock, and ensure that the close season was observed to the latter, the government needed to put in place stringent measures to stop the illegalities on the sea.

This was crucial because if artisanal and semi-industrial fishers were made to observe the closed season and the above-mentioned illegalities persisted the aim would not be achieved.

Meanwhile, in the latest development, the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC), the technical arm of ECOWAS that implements ECOWAS policies on fisheries and aquaculture has announced that to make the ban on fishing activities effective, Ghana would soon be observing its closed season together with other neighboring coastal West African states.

Some of the West African States that would be affected by this decision are, Cote D’Ivoire and Togo.

Meanwhile, Ghana and Ivoire Coast have started to enforce joint closed seasons to achieve the needed impact.

Mr Joshua Myself, a fisherman described the move as suicidal, adding that without an alternative source of livelihood for fishers this would affect their income generation.

He said to some fisher folks, going on fishing expeditions in Cote D’Ivoire and Togo, during the closed season in Ghana was the only alternative means of survival.

All the challenges we experience as fishers before, during, and after the closed season was a result of fisherfolks not having insurance and savings to cushion them in times of need, which affect our family, especially women because they are at the receiving end.

He explained that there are 52 weeks in a year, of which fishermen rest one day a week making 52 days. “Aside from these days, there were times that due to bad weather conditions, for weeks fishermen do not go fishing, so in effect, fishermen spend close to four months without fishing which is already affecting us.”

Joshua noted that the closed season had thus not been beneficial to fisherfolks but rather a means to increase the sale of fish by cold store operators.

“Some politicians own fishing trawlers and operate cold stores, which allows them to fish in large quantities to stock their cold store and introducing the closed season, therefore, was a means to sell their fish stock,” he said.

Despite the challenges and issues affecting women in fishing communities, the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, has also proposed an extension of one month to two months but whether the fisher folks would agree to this is a matter for later discussion. This article was produced with the support of the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and with support from the Ford Foundation.


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