On June 18, 2020, Gideon Commey hosted Cephas Asare to a Facebook interview on the #StopSaikoNOW campaign. Below is the full text transcript:
Gideon Commey : GC ; Cephas Asare: CA
GC: Cephas, in layman’s terms, can you explain to us what Saiko is, and why all of us following this interview and the Ghanaian public should be worried about it?
CA: In a layman’s term, Saiko is the unlawful transfer (transhipment) of fish from an industrial trawler to a specialized wooden canoe. This is illegal and falls under fishing practice referred to as Illegal Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing. The transferred fish are frozen into slabs and sold to these specialized canoes who in turn sell it to fish processors at the landing sites at a high profit.
To put things in perspective, I will give a brief history of Saiko. It is said by fishermen to have started in the 1970s when fishermen went out to fish and came across (at the time) Korean manned industrial fishing trawlers dumping unwanted fish into the ocean. The fishermen approached the vessels to find out why and also to get some of the fish being dumped. Because of the language barrier, the best they could pick-up from the fishermen onboard the vessel was that the fish being dumped was Saite which meant bad fish and what was retained was Saiko, the good fish. The fishermen managed to convice them that the fish they were dumping was also Saiko.
Once they established this relationship with the Korean vessels and made them understand that the fish being dumped is Saiko for the fishermen, trade by barter started. The fishermen will give farm produce to the vessel in exchange for Saiko fish. Over time, this seemingly harmless trade festered like a wound because the vessels now knew that there was the demand for the fish they threw away and they could make money from their unwanted fish. They started targeting fish which they would have normally avoided, freeze them and sell to now specialized canoes on the high seas. This became today’s Saiko business. Fish that is considered to be bycatch and hence of less or no value for the trawlers is fish of value to the artisanal fleet and the saiko trade is driven by the demand for it, which the trawlers are exploiting.
Why should we be worried? Our sea is zoned out so vessels can operate without conflicts. We have what is called the Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ); this zone is reserved for small scale fishermen to fish and this is where you mostly find pelagic fishes. Trawlers have been sighted to deliberately come into this zone to harvest pelagic fish and sometimes collide with small scale fishermen fishing vessels leading to loss of properties. This violates their fishing agreements.
The catch from Saiko is unreported and thus hamper efforts to put good management measures in place. For management to be sound, you need good data. Saiko deprive us of such valueable catch data information for sound fisheries management decision making.
They are harvesting this pelagic fish with unapproved fishing nets with small mesh size. This is evident in the analysis of the slab of Saiko fish they sell to the specialized Saiko canoes. 55% of the fish in the slab belongs to the small pelagic family (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, etc) and 90% of the slab content are immature fish that should have been left to replenish the ocean and ensure sustainability of the ocean. The value of the saiko fish is lower (economic value, flesh quality and shelf life) compared to another fish that is fully matured. So in effect traders are not reaping the maximum economic worth of the fish species.
What this means is that if they continue to harvest this juvenile (immature) fish, a day will come when we will not have fish in there for small scale fishermen to harvest.
There are currently between 76 to 78 industrial trawlers operating in Ghanaian waters. These trawlers are competing with over 13000 canoes which support the livelihood of about 2.5 to 2.7 million Ghanaians, that is, 10% of our current population. Their action is threatening to collapse the small-scale fisheries and the ripple effect of that collapse should get everyone extremely worried.
GC: Thanks for the opening response. My 2nd question is: what exactly makes Saiko illegal? Also, do we know where these industrial trawlers involved in Saiko come from and who own them? In short, which industry giants, corporations and individuals fund Saiko?
CA: Saiko is illegal because it contravenes the fishing laws of Ghana (Act 625, LI 1968, Act 880). Vessels are not allowed to transship without authorization and supervision from the Fisheries Commission (an arm of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development responsible for policy implementation). Saiko does not obey this law. The minimum fine for such an offence is US$1 million
Secondly, fishing trawlers are licensed by the Commission to harvest specific fish, that is, snappers, squid and others which are referred to as demersal (bottom-dwelling) fish. what is happening now is that they are targeting pelagic (surface-dwelling) fish like sardines (eban), chub mackerel, anchovies (keta School boys) etc that are meant to be fished by small scale fishermen who fish with wooden canoes and semi-industrial purse seine vessels .
In 2017, 100,000 metric tons of Saiko fish worth over US$50 million were sold. These monies benefit a few. One saiko canoe trip can service about 450 small-scale fishing canoes.
In Ghana, our fishing laws prohibit foreigners from owner fishing vessels. What is happening now is, Ghanaians buy the fishing license from the Commission and front as owners of vessels and these vessels come into our water and fish. The arrangement makes it possible for the ‘fronters’ to get peanuts while the real owners get the lion shares. This arrangement is what we call the beneficial ownership.
Where are the trawlers from? 90% of the trawlers are Chinese distant fishing fleet. Those who front for these vessels are powerful and well connected people in our society and some of these high profile personalities are beneficiaries of the largesse from the trade.
It’s a lucrative venture and some are willing to kill for it. An observer onboard a vessel went missing last year and has still not been found. The vessel involved moves about freely. I have been threatened before with beatings and death. An executive of the Saiko association (yes, they have an association called the by-catch collectors association headquartered in Elmina) once sent a Facebook messages to insult and tell us how insensitive we are to their business.
We should remember that the good of one does not surpass the good of many.
GC: It is definitely scary to have your life threatened while pursuing social justice. I commiserate with you. This however brings me to the next question about the impact on community and livelihoods: I understand that about 300 coastal communities are affected by Saiko. Can you tell us some of the specific negative impacts on these communities, where they are located and how livelihoods are been impacted?
CA: There are over 300 landing sites dotted across Ghana’s 550km coastline, from Aflao in the Volta Region to Avlenu (New Town) in Western Region.
Saiko, if not checked, will exacerbate poverty in coastal communities. Currently, fishing communities are struggling to land enough fish to feed their homes and Ghanaians because of fish decline which has been accelerated by activities of Trawlers.
We are going to see more rural-urban migration as these communities try to cope with the decline and possible collapse of their livelihood. Already, our cosmopolitan cities are choked with the in-flock of youth seeking better life options and poor urban planning. This is going to increase when coastal communities collapse.
Lack of affordable small pelagic fish also means food insecurity in coastal communities. Sustaining coastal fishing economies is one sure way to attain SDG 2: Zero hunger and SDG 14: Life below water. Our small-scale fishermen, like small scale farmers, are the ones who feed us in Ghana, their ability to carry out this critical role is under threat from Saiko.
GC: Lets now talk about you and the important work you are doing: I know you’ve been at the frontline of the #StopSaikoNOW campaign. What actions have you taken, which local fisher groups have been involved and how has the government responded?
CA: Working with the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen’s Council (GNCFC) we have raised awareness in coastal areas and gained their support to push for policy implementation. There has been some level of enforcement action on the part of the government as a result of these but we need to do more. Arrested vessels go back to fishing with impunity without paying the fines.
We have tried to raise the awareness at the national level as well through conferences, dialogues, TV, Radio, Newspaper and social media campaigns.
Training journalist to understand the issues and report fisheries issues right.
We (a coalition of 8 NGOs and GNCFC) recently wrote an open letter to the president to get him to act.
We have a petition out for people to sign as a support for the open letter.
Actions are being monitored by other international agencies like the EU who could step in to issue a yellow or red card to Ghana. These cards, like in football place sanctions on offending countries to take action or their fish export into the EU market stops. That has dire implication for our foreign exchange earnings and our tuna fishing industry. They issues a yellow card once in 2013 and was lifted in 2015 when we put measure in place to address IUU fishing (https://stopillegalfishing.com/press-links/eu-issues-green-card-to-ghana-on-fisheries-management/). Now, it seems we have gone back to business as usual.
Government’s response has been slow because the ministry responsible has not acted decisively. Rumours have it that high profile coastal dwellers and dignitaries are beneficiaries of Saiko, hence the president is not being informed on the menace. This is why we need the groundswell; we need the general public to become more aware of the issue and help put government’s feet to the fire for change to happen. We are having another Galamsey at sea!
GC: There is no doubt that you’ve done a lot on this campaign, but there is so much more to be done and that is where our Facebook community of activists and supporters as well as the public come. So before we wrap this up: can you tell us what we can all do to support the campaign against Saiko?
CA: People can do the following to support the #StopSaikoNOW campaign:
Sign the petition on act.ejf.org. we need the numbers to petition govt and the EU to take action. This will be added to the open letter signed by chief fishermen along the coast and present to the president.
Cephas Asare is an activist working to ensure social justice and sustainable fisheries in Ghana. He has spent the last 10 years addressing social injustice in the small scale fisheries sector in Ghana. He’s been at the frontline of ending Saiko since 2015. His work on Saiko fishing in Axim, Elmina and Apam in 2015 brought the issue of Saiko fishing to the fore of fisheries management discussion.
Cephas leads the fisheries, advocacy and communication programs at Hen Mpoano, an NGO focusing on fisheries and coastal resources management.