Fish and oil

Fishmongers at Sekondi. Photo by Christiane Badgley

Fish and oil: What’s at stake?

Here in Ghana, oil is expected to account for about 5% of the GNP when production gets up to speed. The fishing industry also contributes nearly 5% to the GNP. The number of jobs for Ghanaians that the oil industry may create is still unknown, but there’s no mystery about fishing. Approximately one-fifth of Ghana’s population depends on fishing. That’s huge, but in the Western Region fishing communities have to accommodate the oil industry. The oil industry meanwhile doesn’t have to do anything for the fishermen.

When one talks about oil and fishing, the first thing that comes up is spills. Look at how many fishing operations were shut down during the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a disaster for local businesses, but in the U.S. there was at least some compensation (even if there are ongoing issues). If there is an oil spill off the coast of Ghana, or elsewhere in the Gulf of Guinea region, millions of people will be left with absolutely nothing.  Fishermen, buyers, fish smoking and reselling operations – a huge segment of the local population will be left high and dry for months or longer.

But the oil industry impacts fishing even when everything is going well and this is something we rarely hear about if we live outside fishing communities.

Cuttlefish seller. Photo by Christiane Badgley

In Ghana, fishermen are angry about the 500-meter no-fishing zone that surrounds the Jubilee field drilling operations.  As one fisherman explained to me, they don’t  necessarily want to go fishing around the oil production area, but they have to follow the fish. The powerful, 24-hour-a-day lighting on the Kwame Nkrumah (that’s the refitted tanker that serves as the oil storage and off-loading vessel) attracts the fish, so that’s where the fishermen go. This is not disputed by anyone, but the no-fishing zone remains in place. The Navy has seized fishermen, their boats and motors, causing great financial distress.

Fishermen also talk about increased tanker and shipping traffic in the region, as well as signs of pollution.  Recently tar balls washed ashore along a stretch of coast near the town of Axim. The fishermen said they had never seen this before and thought it must be related to the drilling. The government apparently tested the tar and said it was not from drilling but dumped from ships. No one around here seems convinced.

Today more oil finds were announced in the local press. New drilling is likely to begin soon, leading to more no-fishing zones, more tanker traffic and increased environmental risk. The Ghanaian government and the oil companies need to take concrete actions to insure that fishing communities are protected from the hazards of oil.

fish stall, Sekondi. Photo by Christiane Badgley

One Response to “Fish and oil”

  1. […] Already the Western Region is feeling the effect of the oil industry on fishing (see my previous posts). The Western Region is seeing an influx of job and fortune seekers who are impacting the cost of […]

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