The European Commission gave an official announcement on 1 October 2015 that it had removed the “yellow card” imposed on Ghana and given the country a “green card”. Not many Ghanaians understood this announcement. However, for those in the fisheries community, especially those involved in trading Ghana’s fish in countries belonging to the European Union, the announcement was a major relief after having to wait for more than two years. During the announcement, the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said: “Today’s decisions demonstrate the determination of the European Union to bring important players on board in the fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Both Ghana and Papua New Guinea have taken ownership of their fisheries reforms and now have robust legal and policy frameworks in place to fight IUU fishing activities. I am calling on the authorities of the Comoros and Taiwan to follow their example and join the European Union in promoting legal and sustainable fisheries worldwide.”

Among Ghana’s non-traditional exports, fish and fish products rank very high and rake in about USD300m annually for the Ghanaian economy. Ghana’s major and strategic trading partner with respect to fish and fish products are the countries in the European Union, such as the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. In March 2013, some EU countries placed trade embargos on tuna exports from Ghana because they gave suspicion that the fish consignments from Ghana were contaminated with illegally caught fish. In November 2013, the European Commission pre-identified Ghana as “a non-cooperative third party state in the global fight against IUU”. Ghana immediately adopted to enter into a dialogue process with the EU to resolve the issues of concern.

IUU is a major threat to global marine resources as overfishing destroys the livelihoods of many communities who depend on fisheries. The reason against IUU is that the fish is stolen (not authorized – illegal), not counted in fisheries statistics (unreported), and the fishing activity is not conducted under any regulation (unregulated). The Twenty-third Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in February 1999, therefore, addressed the need to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. It is estimated that between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally a year, corresponding to at least 15% of world catches. Its global value reaches up to 10 billion euros per year.

In response to the call from the Twenty-third Session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI), the International Plan of Action to combat IUU (IPOA-IUU) was developed as a voluntary instrument. Countries which are characterized as Coastal States (have fisheries waters), Flag States (have registered fishing vessels), or Port States (have designated fish landing ports), were mandated to enact and enforce laws to combat IUU. Countries which trade in fish and fish products, characterized as Market States, such as those in the EU, are also obliged to do similarly to avoid becoming a destination for IUU caught fish.

Ghana’s primary fisheries legislation, Act 625 was promulgated in 2002 to “provide for the regulation and management of fisheries, the development of the fishing industry, and the sustainable exploitation of fishery resources and also for connected matters”. To make the law effectively enforceable, the Fisheries Regulation, 2010 (L.I. 1968) was passed. Recently, as part of measures taken to address the concerns raised by the EU, two new amendments were made, i.e. Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2014 (Act 880) and Fisheries (Amendment) Regulation 2015 (L.I. 2217).

What led to Ghana being pre-identified is clear and could also be deduced from EU Commissioner Vella’s statement: that is, we were not fighting IUU or to some extent, we were condoning IUU by our vessels both in our waters and foreign waters, and by foreign vessels in Ghana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

So far Ghana has been able to address the concerns satisfactorily under the Ghana-EU IUU dialogue process through the following measures which are continually being implemented. It must be noted that that the World Bank West Africa Regional Fisheries Project – Ghana (WARFP) was instrumental in providing the necessary resources to meet the IUU fishing challenges.

  1. Enhancing the fisheries legislative framework.

The Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2014 and Fisheries (Amendment) Regulation 2015 have provided for the following among others:

i) Definition of IUU fishing consistent with the FAO International Plan of Action and the Fisheries Committee for West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC) Regional Plan of Action.

ii) Imposition of dissuasive sanctions against IUU fishing, including fines of up to 4 million United States Dollars and revocation of any license or authorization granted in respect of the fishing vessel deletion of the fishing vessel from the Ghana Shipping Registry.

iii) Incorporating FAO Port State Measures (PSM) Agreement and ICCAT Recommendation 97- 10 into domestic legislation and enforcement action.

  1. Adoption of a National Plan of Action against IUU fishing.

Ghana’s National Plan to combat IUU fishing is implemented through a range of “All States”, “Coastal States,” “Flag States”, “Port States” and “Market State” measures. The measures include:

i) Giving legal effect to international fisheries agreements to which Ghana is party.

ii) Strengthening the regulatory framework for operational fisheries management.

iii) Effective control of activities associated with IUU fishing through enhanced monitoring, control and surveillance measures and sharing of information with neighbouring States.

v) Exercising flag state responsibility by implementing the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance and Port State Measures

  1. Adoption of a fishery management plan.

The Ghanaian Cabinet approved a Fisheries Management Plan for the management of the marine fisheries sector in accordance with sections 42 and 43 of the Fisheries Act 2002 on 30th April 2015. This is a demonstration of the highest political commitment to fisheries management reform. The key aspects of the Management Plan, which address all the shortcomings in the Ghanaian fisheries management framework, include the following:

i) A freeze on vessel capacity in the trawl fishery, including freeze on vessel numbers, registration of new vessels and replacement of old vessels with new and bigger vessels.

ii) A clean up of the fishing vessel registry by removing all the inactive vessels from the registry.

iii) A 50% reduction in trawl fishing days for over the next 3 years, starting in the third quarter of 2015;

iv) A 2 months fishing closure per year, up to 4 months by year 3;

v) Cancel license and registration of repeat IUU offenders without an option to replace that vessel;

  1. Improving weaknesses in the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) framework.

The Fisheries Commission have undertaken several measures to improve MCS delivery including the following:

i) Fisheries Enforcement Unit: Establishment of the Fisheries Enforcement Unit (FEU), with increased staff from the Ghana Navy and Marine Police. The FEU has adopted a risk-based national inspection plan has been developed and being actively implemented.

ii) VMS Enhancement: All active Ghanaian flagged industrial fishing vessels have been installed with Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and monitored round the clock (24/7).

iii) Inter-Agency collaboration: The Fisheries Commission is collaborating with a number of Agencies to support the MCS process.

iv) Fishing in Third Party Countries: All third party licenses obtained by Ghanaian flagged vessel operators are referred to the coastal state for verification before the operators are allowed to use them to fish in the third party state.

v) Port State Measures: Active Implementation of Port State measures have begun in May 2015 in Ghana including the request for landing declaration by fishing vessels 48 hours prior to landing.

  1. Establishing credible procedures to endorse catch certificates and processing statements and ensure credible traceability of fishery products from landing to export to the EU after processing.

A robust system is now in place which mandates that fisheries products and export consignments are verified by VMS and fishing logbook of areas of fishing, catch and catch composition, licenses and landing declarations. The scheme has enabled Ghana to prevent the exportation of IUU-tainted fish.

The above-mentioned elaborate measures clearly indicate the serious gaps that existed prior to the imposition of the yellow card by the EU. They also indicate the efforts that the Government through the Fisheries Commission and its collaborators have put in place in the past two years to restore the confidence of the international community, particularly the EU. Our failure would have landed Ghana with a “red card”, which would have completely shut the international markets on us, with the consequence of massive job and income losses in the fisheries sector. However, the removal of the yellow card is not the end of the matter; we need to sustain the fisheries reforms and avoid sliding back.

To be able to sustain the gains, it must be realized that fisheries management and enforcement can be effectively achieved through the shared responsibility and vigilance by all stakeholders, the public sector, the private sector and consumers of fish and fish products. The bottom line is that all legislation relating to fisheries and the maritime environment must be complied with, whilst the fisheries law enforcement agencies are given the necessary support to conduct their activities without any hindrance.

Green is warm and friendly so let us keep it by upholding our own laws.