Natural resources should promote sustainable development through the creation of wealth for a nation and its citizenry; present and future. It is no wonder that natural resource exploitation is often linked to the quest for socio-economic well-being of the people.
However, if natural resource exploitation does not inure to the benefit of all citizens, then well-being is not evenly distributed and the goal of sustainable development (development that meets the needs of the present generation without affecting the needs of future generations) will be defeated.
The case of Ghana’s fishing and petroleum industries brings to the fore the question of sustainability in the interaction between renewable and non-renewable resources.
The Ghanaian fishing industry has had its share of challenges driven mostly by environmental and biological factors. Ghana’s petroleum industry is another dilemma that the industry operators, particularly the artisanal fishermen along the coast, are faced with.
At the onset of oil and gas exploration in Ghana, there were concerns that the livelihoods of fishermen in communities closer to oil and gas operations would be threatened by upstream activities, especially with regards to the presence of exploration infrastructure and logistics offshore. The first major complaint by fishermen was when the FPSO (the Floating, Production, Storage and Offloading vessel) Kwame Nkrumah berthed offshore.
Today there are three FPSOs, with a fourth one in the offing by 2021. In addition, there are offloading vessels as well as marine supply vessel support and even pipelines, all situated offshore. All these take up a chunk of marine space and the fear is that as the petroleum industry expands, fishermen will gradually lose most of their operational spaces.
Indeed, the discovery of petroleum resources is beneficial to Ghana as the sector contributes significantly to the country’s socio-economic development.
As such, it will be illogical to downplay the importance of the activities associated with the sector. However, if exploration activities are deemed to affect the sustainable livelihoods of fishermen, then the benefit of the sector becomes questionable, given that the petroleum industry is volatile and finite. There has to be a way that both industries can co-exist to ensure that development is truly sustainable, not only for some people but for the entire nation.
Conversations around this oil-fisheries dichotomy have always centred on providing alternative livelihoods for the affected fishermen, and livelihoods have mostly been directed towards non-fishing ventures.
There have also been arguments for the implementation of local content policies and legislations to give more opportunities to residents of affected communities. Attempts along these lines have not been very successful because the cultural dynamics of the fishing communities have not been well understood to determine appropriate livelihood options. The coastal communities see fishing as not only an income-generating activity but also as a part of their cultural system. As such asking them to explore alternative income avenues away from the fishing sector could be akin to uprooting them and planting them on unnatural terrain. Naturally they won’t survive in that unnatural terrain. Again, bearing in mind that fisheries resources are renewable and more reliable than petroleum resources, it may not be prudent after all, to move fishermen away to other sectors.
Perhaps, a significant thought should be given to the possibility of having the fisheries sector developed alongside the petroleum industry, in a way that will ensure their co-existence. A Sea Access Framework is currently being developed ostensibly to address the challenge of fishing in restricted areas.
But the strong opposition from the fishing communities suggests that the framework could be stillborn or disregarded. Efforts should rather be directed at a long-term, extensive but rewarding fish-farming development strategy that targets not only inshore, but also offshore. Aquaculture in Ghana is receiving some attention but the idea of ‘offshore’ fish-farming (mariculture) seems to be a better and more convincing argument to resource the fisherman to continue to fish and earn more income, than to preach about alternative livelihood or employment opportunities.
Norway has succeeded in creating the world’s first automated facility that has enabled fish farming in the ocean. They did that to solve challenges of traditional inshore fish farming. The project combines existing technology and solutions from the Norwegian fish farming industry and the offshore oil and gas sector. Considering that Ghana often looks to Norway for best practices in petroleum resource management, this project is something that Ghana can adapt to address the challenges of the fisheries industry following the emergence of the petroleum industry. However, such a policy or direction will require a change in the way fishing is perceived. Rather than associating fisheries with poverty, fisheries management plans should be broadly integrated into the national development plans and treated as an equally important economic growth pole. It is easier to invest heavily in an industry when it is rightly perceived as a wealth and income generating sector.
With better management and environmentally friendly technology, aided by stringent policy strategies and legislation, offshore fish-farming can contribute immensely to the provision of employment and income for many coastal communities. On a more national scale, offshore fish-farming can contribute to the maintenance of fish stocks and the preservation of our natural biodiversity. Indeed, the argument here will be that a proportion of revenue from petroleum resources can be channelled into this project. Additional support can be derived from private investment, both local and international. In this world of technology there is basically nothing that cannot be done if there is a will.
Pursuing the offshore fish farming project should not mean abandoning any effort to improve amenities in communities close to the upstream activities. Emphasis should still be placed on developing major projects and infrastructure in the communities and access to quality education in affected communities should receive greater attention. Investing some aspect of revenues in the area of human and capital resources will also make these fishing communities better suitable for an offshore fish farming project and of course the potential to secure other jobs in other sectors including oil and gas.
Sustainability efforts should move away from diversification of fishers’ income to diversification of fisheries resources and this will subsequently lead to wealth creation among the fishing communities. If fishing is considered a major growth pole, then let mariculture be that alternative livelihood for the fishing communities impacted by the upstream activities. Such an effort will not only be addressing a potential source of conflict but would also lead to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If Norway has done it, Ghana can.
By: Shirley Ewurama Ferguson-Avornyo (email@example.com)
The writer is a Social Science Researcher interested in Natural Resource Governance & Fisheries Sustainability.