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Coastal areas of Ghana’s Western Region have been undergoing two potentially far-reaching socio-economic transformations since the turn of the 21st Century – the drastic decline of marine fisheries on which much of the coastal population depends, and the start of offshore oil production in the Jubilee Field.

Marine fishing is an important economic sector in Western Region, as in Ghana as a whole; the sector employs 135,000 people nationwide, with each job supporting a further seven in processing, commerce and associated services. Fisheries are underpinned by a rich – but variable – biannual upwelling in the Gulf of Guinea, which supports productive small pelagic, large pelagic and demersal fish communities. These resources are fished by a diverse fleet including artisanal vessels (canoes, comprising 92% of the fisher population), semi-industrial and industrial trawlers.

Despite continual growth in the size and fishing capacity of the fleet, total fisheries productivity has declined sharply in the last two decades. For example, total annual small pelagic landings fell from 277,000 MT in 1996 to 92,000 MT in 2011. These declines are primarily driven by two inter-related drivers – overfishing, and destructive fishing. Overfishing is driven by the open access nature of the fishery, rapid population growth, and a lack of alternative livelihood opportunities in coastal areas, resulting in there being more fishers than the resource base can support. This in turn stimulates the use of destructive techniques, including light, dynamite and chemical fishing, as fishers compete to catch dwindling stocks. Light fishing is particularly devastating as it attracts small pelagics to the surface from their deep water refuges outside the upwelling season, turning a seasonal fishery into a year-round one and interfering with fish reproduction.

In addition to fisheries declines, fishers increasingly cite the oil and gas sector as an emerging source of concern. Fishers blame the industry for fisheries declines, though there is little scientific support for this position. However fishers are impacted by the risk of collisions and entanglements with industry support vessels, and by the establishment of safety exclusion zones (SEZs) around offshore infrastructure, as these attract fish (through light and macerated food discharges) to areas where they cannot be caught.

Potential CSI interventions can be divided into three categories; interventions addressing the overdependence on fishing of coastal communities, interventions addressing fisheries management, and interventions addressing conflicts between fishers and the oil and gas industry.

There will be no magic bullets for the oil and gas sector to invest in and solve the fisheries current problems; rather, a plurality of complementary and synergistic approaches will be required to achieve significant social and environmental impacts at the required scale.