West Africa Rising: Ghana looks to fix its floundering fisheries

The World Bank plans to pump $53 million into Ghana's fisheries industry, which employs 2.2 million people, to reverse a decade-long downturn.

Alida Latham Danita Delimont Photography/Newscom/File
Colorful hand-painted fishing boats are tied up at Elmina port in Ghana, in May 2010.

West Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

Fishing may be one of the oldest and most traditional ways of making a living, but several West African countries are hoping to boost their economies with new investment into modernizing their fisheries sectors.

In Ghana, one of the richest countries in the region, the fisheries industry is about to get a jump start. Earlier this month, the directors of the World Bank approved a project that will pump $53 million into the fisheries sector over the next six years. The initiative aims to overhaul an industry that supports nearly a tenth of Ghana’s population but that has been in decline over the past decade.

Ghana produces more than 400,000 tons of fish each year, but production levels have begun to shrink, the World Bank said in a report released in June, because the fish stocks off of Ghana’s coast have been “heavily overexploited.”

“As a result of the decreasing profitability of Ghana’s fisheries, the 2.2 million people reliant on the sector for their livelihoods… are getting steadily poorer,” the World Bank said in the report. The average income of the country’s small-scale fishers has fallen by as much as 40 percent over the last ten years, even as incomes in the country’s timber- and cocoa-producing regions have swelled.

The problem, the Bank said, is that there are “too many vessels competing to catch too few fish.” Meanwhile, most of the fish are being exported raw, so all of the added economic value that comes with processing is lost to companies overseas.

The $53 million from the World Bank will help Ghana better manage the boats trawling the waters off its coast and build new processing facilities that will increase the value of exported fish. The funds will also be used to build new fish farms, a step that could help relieve the pressure on the depleted fish stocks off Ghana’s coast.

With sound management, the World Bank said, the fisheries sector could generate revenues of more than $200 million each year, which would help Ghana reach its goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2015.

In addition to Ghana, the World Bank is also putting money into fisheries in seven other countries in the region, from Liberia to Mauritania, under the banner of a regional initiative to reinvigorate and better manage the sector.

West Africa is home to about 7 million people whose primary source of income comes from the fisheries sector, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Fish is the most important source of animal protein for coastal-dwelling people across the region.

Curbing illegal fishing is a major goal in all of the country programs, as many West African nations lack the boats, personnel, and expertise to police their own waters.

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