Oil exploration causes problems for local fisherman

“I’m not aware there is a rig around Shama waters,” says one fisherman at the Sekondi harbor.

[pullquote]It isn’t appropriate. It’s something that’s come to stay with the development of Africa where some of these developments take place without proper consultation with the people.[/pullquote]

He is not alone. Most fishermen we’ve talked to at the seaport this afternoon are surprised to hear a new restricted zone has been put in place around Olympia rig, the fourth rig to go up in the waters of Ghana’s Western Region and the first off the coast of Shama, a strong traditional fishing area.
Earlier this month, the Ghana National Petroleum Company, or GNPC, announced they were launching a campaign to let fishermen know to keep a three mile radius distance away from the newest rig, but in a press conference last week officials with the Fisheries Commission, a government agency, said they didn’t know anything about this restriction. Normally, boats are asked to keep a five hundred metre distance away from the drilling and exploration activities. The Regional Director of the Fisheries Commission, Alex Sabah, says if more areas are restricted to fishermen then proper compensation needs to be given.

“Naturally, a lot more rigs means a lot more people are going to get out of business and there’s a need …for those who will be kept out of business to get involved in some other income-generating adventures to sustain their livelihood,” he says.

A Fisherman tending his net at Sekondi harbor

Some are concerned GNPC and Vanco oil, operators of the rig, are not following the proper procedures. “It isn’t appropriate. It’s something that’s come to stay with the development of Africa where some of these developments take place without proper consultation with the people. I think in the extractive industry, not only in the oil exploration, but also forestry and mining especially, investors normally override the participation of the people,” says Donkris Mavuto, Executive Director of Friends of the Nation, an NGO concerned with issues along the coastal area.

At the Sekondi harbor, fishermen say restricting fishing areas is a matter of safety and more should be done to inform those out at sea.

“We should let the chief fishermen announce to their colleagues around the coastline so that everybody will be aware this is going on,” says one fisherman in the local Akan.

Isaac Taylor, a marine engineer, says markers need to be set up, so fishermen know exactly where the boundaries are. He’s also concerned that an awareness campaign might not reach many illiterate fishers.

“Fishermen are not people who are learned and with that some of them may be hurt. So I think it would be better if authorities have pictures of these things and place them around, that will help to make people aware of it,” he says.

After all, being made aware shouldn’t be too much to ask.

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