Imagine a wooden canoe without any fishing gear such as a fishing net or the sort going to sea to fish. After some hours at sea or days, it returns with a canoe full of frozen slabs of fish. This activity is referred to as “Saiko” in Ghana. “Saiko” refers to the transfer or “transhipment” of fish at sea from industrial trawlers to local canoes.
Saiko ranks among the leading destructive Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing offence in Ghana. The use of light, explosives and chemicals such as Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT) are other examples of IUU fishing offences. The Section 88 and 132 of the Ghana Fisheries Act 2002 (Act 625) frowns on all these illegal activities. The European Union had indicated to the country it risks a ban in case IUU activities remained unchecked. As a result, the government developed the Fisheries Management plan.
In 2017, the Environmental Justice Foundation Ghana conducted research on Saiko in Ghana. This revealed that approximately 100,000 tonnes of fish were obtained through this illegal activity. This was out of the total of 167,000. In simple terms, this meant that only 40% of catches were obtained legally and reported to the Fisheries Commission. This Saiko fish amounted to over 50 million when sold at the landing site. This shows how serious the issue of Saiko is in the country.
This illegal trade continues to take place in Elmina, a Saiko hot spot in Ghana where over 80% of the trade occurs. According to the research, it had an average of 11 landings a week since November 2019.
Tackling Saiko in West Africa
Saiko is not only a sea offence in Ghana but also a problem in other West African states with shorelines. To this end, the World Bank rolled out the West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (WARFP) with the objective of addressing it and other sea-related issues.
This project deployed trained individuals referred to as Fisheries Observers onboard all sea-going fishing vessel which could either be a Tuna vessels and Fishing trawler. The Fisheries Observers had responsibilities outlined in Section 100 of the Fisheries Act. Among other things, s/he was to report any illegal activity at sea to aid efforts to save the sea.
With this initiative in operation, Saiko still remains a hard nut to crack for the Ghanaian Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development. The nation has demonstrated an interest to fight this “high-sea evil”. This is because it was a leading factor in the reduction of the nation’s fish stock.
Dangers of Saiko
The category of fish passed for Saiko are discards which include harvested juvenile and small pelagic fish. For a vessel to haul large quantities of these fish onboard, it means the vessel used an unprescribed fishing net size. This is because the prescribed net size traps mature fish but has enough space for the juvenile to escape. Taking up the juvenile fish, however, poses a great threat to marine life in Ghana’s waters. The small pelagic fish make up the other category of fish which are harvested together with the juvenile fish when unprescribed nets are deployed for fishing.
The usual small pelagic fish species used for Saiko include sardinella and chub mackerel. They, however, live in the mid-water region of the sea. The trawler fishing vessel when fishing focuses on bottom fish as their target fish. It is, however, a norm for their fishing net to take along some quantities of these small pelagic fish when fishing. Taking large quantities of this fish shows an intentional activity by the fishing crew to take this fish since they live in mid-waters. This marks the beginning of the “Saiko cycle”.
Ideally, vessels that go to out to sea are required to obtain a permit which indicates the quantity of fish to be harvested in a particular voyage. However, with the practice of Saiko, proper reporting does not always happen. This means that fishing vessels under-report the quantity of fish taken at sea thus leading to the country suffering revenue losses.
Furthermore, the fish obtained through Saiko are sold cheaply in the market which leads to a disruption in fish prices. Saiko’s adverse environmental impact emanates from the vessel(s) spending more days at sea than ordinarily required. This means that for the additional days, they keep burning fossil fuels which contribute to air pollution.
With all the negative effects that Saiko presents, why does it still linger as a national problem at sea? To answer this question, it is important to understand some “guiding principles” of Saiko which makes it a thriving activity and king of illegal activities at sea.
13 Days At Sea
In 2017, I had the opportunity to work as a Fisheries Observer onboard a fishing vessel jointly owned by a Ghanaian company and the Chinese. It was an eye-opening experience that allowed me to understand the “guiding principles” of Saiko and how they influenced the various players involved. Having spent 13 days at sea working amongst the kings of the sea at it were, I observed the “guiding principles” on which Saiko is premised upon to be more or less similar to those that you would expect in any business environment. The only difference is that these “principles” are used to dress-up and justify an illegal activity. The “guiding principles” are:
Saiko is teamwork
For a successful Saiko, most players at sea have to play their role just like a well-oiled machine. During my brief stay at sea, I witnessed the “Saiko machine” at work. It started with a few Ghanaian crew members making phone calls to the canoe fishermen. After a few hours, a canoe came trying to catch up with our moving ship. Ordinarily, this was a daunting task given the speed that a ship moves with. To allow the canoe to catch up to the ship, the captain has to slow down his vessel and this is what happened. Our captain played his part by slowing down the ship. It’s almost as if they had forgotten that I was there. Maybe they had remembered that a third party was watching them or something else because for whatever reason, the Ghanaian crew came over to confer with me regarding their intention to pass on some fish to the canoe. I informed them that my role was not to interfere with their activities but to be an impartial observer and report on what happens at sea. Probably out of fear and a deep knowledge of the illegality of their activities, they decided to not pass the fish and the canoe team left disappointed and angry.
It is therefore not too difficult to see how self-serving interests is central to Saiko flourishing as an illegal activity.
The various individual interests Saiko serves is the reason for this cooperation masquerading as teamwork. Everyone involved stands to benefit in one way or another so they do not really need to like each other. For instance, on the one hand, the captain needs to get rid of low-earning fish species from their ship’s cold room (freezer) to make room for octopus and other high earning fish for export. On the other hand, the Ghanaian crew need fast cash. What Saiko does is present a solution for both parties involved and it’s a win-win for them. While it creates job opportunities for others such as the Fisheries Observers, as I was, whose allowance is based on the number of days spent at sea, it also destroys the livelihood of others. For instance, when the canoe team buy and sell this fish to some fishmongers at throw-away prices, they in turn re-sell it at exceedingly low prices thus disrupting the existing fish market prices. This means that other fish re-sellers have to lower their prices considerably to be able to compete thus risking going out of business altogether.
Saiko is an equalizer
From the class system against Ghanaians within their own territorial waters to equals with a central role in decision making, this is the shift in social structure that Saiko brings to the Ghanaian crew. Within the ship and from interacting with the crew members, I could see that the reason they did not or could not see Saiko as an illegal activity is because of the feeling of self-worth and control that it gave them. Not too long ago, these men were on the opposite side receiving and awaiting orders from their Chinese counterparts.
The Chinese had created a social hierarchy in the ship whereby they were at the top (upper class) while the rest such as the Ghanaian crew were at the bottom (lower class). The stratification created by the Chinese meant that the Ghanaian crew endured terrible conditions such as inadequate living quarters for them to rest and lack of toilets. Their cabins (room) were simply not enough. This is contrasted with their Chinese counterparts who lived like kings while aboard the ships. For instance, while 10 Ghanaians had to contend with sharing one poorly ventilated, stuffy, tiny cabin with two beds, the Chinese crew each had individual spacious, air-conditioned cabins.
The working conditions were not any better. Despite the Ghanaian crew working on a 6-hour shift hauling the fishing nets 2-3 times within these periods, they had no breaks. Instead of resting after a shift, the Chinese always had a task ready for them even though they (the Chinese) had their rests in full.
This situation evidenced a well- structured class system with a master-servant relationship. Arguably, Saiko somewhat levels the playing field. With this illegal trade, there is seemingly no class system because all the players have become masters and are equal. The “Saiko system” has been crafted to serve everyone’s interest.
Saiko means better working conditions
When I came onboard the ship, the Ghanaian crew were not afraid to share issues of their poor working conditions with me. As innocent as this may look, I quickly learnt that it could be a rouse or manipulation tactic meant to persuade the observer to either turn a blind eye or compromise with any illegality done at sea. I could see how deep they were in Saiko by their justifications for why they engage in it. For instance, many of them would lament that they are forced to engage in such activities not because they want to but for the circumstances that they have found themselves in such as their meagre allowances. Further, that Saiko provides them additional income to augment their poor allowances and thus meet their daily needs. From their perspective, it is not too difficult to see why these seamen are bent on undertaking this activity.
It is from this same lens that they regard any individual (observer) who does not compromise as a threat to their “better life”. This becomes a precarious situation for the observer(s) who by virtue of their position enjoy better working conditions fully paid for by the boarded fishing vessel’s company in comparison to the seamen. To these seamen, particularly the Ghanaian crew, Saiko is considered as the only way to earn a “decent pay”.
Saiko “saves” the sea
The trawler works by the principle of setting nets which drag along the bottom of the sea. Since some marine species such as octopus are exported overseas, they become more valuable than others.
In a video, crew members were seen dumping “low value ” fish or discards into the sea. The rationale is to make room for the high-value ones which would be stored later in the ship’s cold room. In a bid to avoid this sacrilege, others opt to sell this fish illegally at sea (Saiko) in order to “save” the sea. By doing so, these seamen, do not see themselves as wrongdoers but as heroes who are doing their part in protecting the sea and its inhabitants.
Saiko is a major threat to our waters as it is depleting our fish stock at a very fast rate. While the idea of having an observer onboard fishing vessels is laudable, we still need to do more. For instance, Observer training programs should ab initio explain the entire “Saiko chain” and the various roles played by all parties including the Ghanaian crews. This will effectively prepare the observers to deal with any eventualities while onboard the ships. Prior to working as an Observer, I was under the impression that it was only the Chinese who enjoyed the Saiko business. However, this assumption was quickly thwarted while onboard when I realised that other players such as Ghanaian crews were also big beneficiaries of the illegal trade. Apart from this bit, all aspects of the observer training program equipped me for work at sea.
There is need to re-evaluate the payment structure for seamen. The fact that some of the Ghanaian crew that I observed felt the need to augment their allowances by engaging in Saiko is quite worrying. Their disdain for anyone perceived to obstruct this activity to be an enemy poses great risk to Fisheries Observers. There have been instances where observers have been declared missing at sea for simply doing their work. There is no reason whatsoever why anyone should lose their life for doing what is right, that is, saving the ocean.
In the same breath, regulatory bodies need to pay attention to the issues of better conditions of service such as sleeping area, entitlement to good rest, and minimum wage thresholds. In the course of my work, I was surprised and saddened to learn that the Ghanaian crew onboard our ship only earned 4 USD (United State Dollars) per day. The payment needs to be reviewed if we are to have a shot at successfully addressing Saiko.
Working cameras must be fitted on all trawler vessels. This will make it possible for the regulatory authorities to monitor all activities remotely. Notably, this was part of the WARFP and it started operation from the Tuna fishing vessels in the first phase of this project.
All Hands-on Deck
Regulatory bodies such as the Fisheries Commission have demonstrated a high level of commitment to their work. Consequently, this is the reason we have not lost all the fish in our territorial waters. Too much is at stake and we need to do more to protect marine life in our waters.
- Strengthening enforcement measures – Punitive measures for sea-related offences must be enforced to the letter. Compromised observers must be identified and penalized. This is because they make the work of genuine observers difficult through the low work standards they set.
- Investing in surveillance tools – All observers should be equipped with surveillance devices such as smart GPS systems and secret cameras to capture offences committed at sea without fear of intimidation or threat to one’s life. Smart GPS systems will enable them record accurately the location of the offence without having to go onboard the ship’s bridge.
- Building consensus among stakeholders – There is an urgent need for all players to sit around the table to understand where the nation is headed with this Saiko activity. From the ignored fisherman on the fishing vessel, the canoe operators, observers at sea, the association of trawlers, politicians, ship owners to regulatory bodies, all must be involved.
This will, however, be the beginning of a journey to action which will consider the well-being and interest of all towards a “Saiko-free” sea.
Baidoo-Tsibu, G. (2019). Ghana: Saiko is sacrilege. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://fcwc-fish.org/our-news/ghana-saiko-is-sacrilege
China Dialogue (Producer). (2019, February 5). Ghana: Undercover video reveals shocking scale of fish discards [Video file]. <Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C4R3zJoBSY&feature=emb_logo> (Accessed October 22, 2020)
EJF and Hen Mpoano (2019). Stolen at sea. How illegal ‘Saiko’ fishing is fuelling the collapse of Ghana’s fisheries.
EJF and Hen Mpoano (n.d). The Problem with “Saiko”an ecological and human catastrphe.
Fisheries observer. (2019, April 03). Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisheries_observer
Fishing trawler. (2020, September 06). Retrieved October 25, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fishing_trawler
Ghana: Saiko – The observers are missing. (2020, July 05). Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://fcwc-fish.org/other-news/ghana-saiko-the-observers-are-missing
Joseph, J. (2003). Managing Fishing Capacity of the World Tuna Fleet. (982).
The Maritime Executive. (n.d.). Ghana’s Fisheries Minister Calls for End of Saiko. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/ghana-s-fisheries-minister-calls-for-end-of-saiko
Ressler, A. M., & Alamy. (2016). Ghanaian navy and US coast guard officers board a fishing vessel in the Atlantic in 2016. [Photograph]. Atlantic Sea.
What is IUU Fishing. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2020, from http://www.iuuwatch.eu/what-is-iuu-fishing/
The World Bank. (n.d.). West Africa Regional Fisheries Program. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://projects.worldbank.org/en/projects-operations/project-detail/P106063
IVolunteer International is a 501(c)3 tech-nonprofit registered in the United States with operations worldwide. Using a location-based mobile application, we mobilize volunteers to take action in their local communities. Our vision is creating 7-billion volunteers. We are an internationally recognized nonprofit organization and is also a Civil Society Associated with the United Nations Department of Global Communications. Visit our profiles on Guidestar, Greatnonprofits, and FastForward.