Oil vs. fishing in Ghana — the conflicts continue

Takoradi fishing port. Photo by Christiane Badgley

Takoradi fishing port. Photo by Christiane Badgley

It has been ages since I’ve posted anything here (more on that below), but it seems that nothing much has changed — at least not for the fishing communities of Western Ghana. I first reported on conflicts between fishermen and Ghana’s new oil industry more than three years ago. Since then, oil exploration and drilling have increased, and the situation for fishermen has deteriorated. In the last few months three reporters have contacted me to talk about conflicts between fishing and oil.

Of course, fishermen across West Africa are in trouble, and overfishing and illegal fishing — most of it by foreign trawlers — are the biggest culprits. But Ghana’s growing offshore industry is adding to the woes of fishing communities. A recent article in The Guardian (U.K.) asks, Does Ghana’s oil boom spell the end for its fishing industry? 

Foreign firms exploring for oil and gas are forcing fishermen out of the waters they have trawled for centuries, fishermen say, lamenting that the government has sidelined them in pursuit of an energy boom that is expected to earn the country up to $1bn a year when it hits peak production, up from $707m in the first three-quarters of 2013 (pdf).

A billion dollars per year is wonderful, but if none of that money is used to improve the lives those impacted by the oil industry, then Ghana might start looking much more like Nigeria. Some 10% of Ghana’s population is engaged in the fishing industry. Will affected fishing communities be provided with alternative livelihoods? The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation told The Guardian: “We have plans to assess the dynamics as far as alternative livelihoods are concerned.” (Whatever that means.)

DW reports that fishing is also becoming more dangerous: The coastal waters are crowded with supply ships and oil tankers, which collide with the fishing boats, especially at night when most of the fishermen are out at sea. “The boats only have small lanterns which are often extinguished by a light breeze or rain,” said [Nii Botchway of Ghana’s Inshore Fisheries Association].

The report adds that Takoradi has now become one of Ghana’s most expensive cities, making life even tougher for locals.

Meanwhile, dead whales continue to wash ashore. Since 2009, more than 25 dead whales have beached in the Western Region. Why is this happening? Is there a relationship between the dead whales and the oil industry (seismic testing, injury, toxic spills)? People in the region have been waiting for answers for years.

See also: Tensions mount in Sekondi over oil exploration activities and Ghana’s fisheries sacrificed for oil?

Re my long absence, I have been doing some work on the other African oil that has got investors excited — palm oil.

See my article at Foreign Policy, When Wall Street Went to Africa — A New York tycoon won a sweetheart deal to build a massive “sustainable” palm oil plantation in Cameroon. What followed were accusations of intimidation, corruption, bribery, and deceit. 

I’ll post again soon with more news on oil, both petroleum and palm.

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