By Kate Thomas
It is mid-morning in Cape Coast, a fishing town 120km from Ghana's capital, Accra. Battered wooden vessels' sails billow in the salty breeze. Rays of sunlight illuminate the whitewashed walls of a colonial-era castle and fishermen cast seaweed-green nets where slave ships once sailed. As the morning's meagre catch is brought to shore, women swarm around sun-beaten boats, scrambling for prized tuna, crab, squid and octopus. Most leave disappointed, carrying small tubs of skinny herring to sell at the local market. "The fishermen don't bring much good fish to land these days," said Angeline Dey, a fishmonger.
Worse things, however, are happening at sea. Cape Coast's slave-trading days may be long gone, but the historic town is no stranger to modern exploitation. Local fishermen say illegally operating foreign trawlers are raping the seas, stealing the area's biggest commodity - its fish. The country's fisheries department says stocks of some species have plummeted by 50 per cent in recent years, but documenting the decline of fish in an under-equipped nation is a difficult task.
"I don't know why the [foreign trawlers\ come. Maybe they have eaten all the fish in their own countries. It is a real problem for us," said Kodjo Thomas, a veteran fisherman. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is one of the most serious threats to the world's fish stocks, jeopardising marine environments and crippling coastal communities in developing countries such as Ghana. The environmental watch group Greenpeace says technologies used by heavy-duty fishing vessels in Asia and Europe have severely depleted fish stocks, and some nations are now looking for new fisheries, targeting the more fertile waters of west and northern Africa to satisfy demand back home.
Dwarfed by industrial-sized foreign vessels, Ghana's decrepit fishing boats look like plankton in an ocean increasingly frequented by whale sharks. A couple of kilometres off Cape Coast's golden beaches, the delicate twine of floating nets glistens in the sun. As Kofi Mills, 31, steers the wooden boat towards last night's catch, the engine splutters. More....