“As for us, we are soldiers and we shall fight illegality by any means”. These are the very words of a naval officer during a recent training in Fisheries Regulations and Laws enforcement in which the Marine Unit of the Ghana Police Service, Ghana Navy, Ghana Airforce, US Navy, Royal Netherlands Navy, the Spanish Navy, the Ghanaian Attorney General’s Department, and the Fisheries Commission together with Friends of the Nation (FoN) and other Civil Society Organizations and fisher groups organized, and participated in.

The Marine Unit’s approach to enforcement has been unique in the annals of enforcement activities by any agency in Ghana. This started in September 2012 after receiving training in Community Entry Strategies and Ecological Justifications of the Fisheries Regulations and Laws from the Integrated Coastal and Fisheries Governance Project (ICFG) Initiative, supported by USAID and implemented by FoN and sister agencies. The Initiative creatively took a look at history and reflected on instances when the Navy and Fisherfolk had violent skirmishes when the former went on enforcement drives. It therefore facilitated this innovation of fostering Voluntary Compliance through attitudinal change on the part of fishers.

The training involved both classroom and extensive field work. Interviewing the men in the Marine Unit on their expectations when they arrived for the training, many of them said: “I thought I was going to learn how to swim and maneuver boats.” A year down the line, this crop of policemen have become Community Development Communicators expertly mixing educating the public with carrying out the traditional mandate of enforcing the law within 89 coastal fishing communities and the fishing harbor in Sekondi. The leader of the team based in Ainyinasie said: “Now we go to the Fisherfolk and they received us very well, yet aware of the fact that we won’t condone illegalities.” This much vaunted uniqueness in the Unit’s approach to enforcement is yielding fruits as it has facilitated eliciting the true reasons for participation in fishery illegalities at the grassroots. Kwabena Yeboah, an outspoken fisherman in Efasu in Jomoro District, boldly confessed in a community gathering: “If I obey the law, my family will go hungry. Everybody else is using the banned practices.” This hitherto unknown social implication of obeying the law would not have come out if the traditional approaches as attributed to the naval officer were adopted.

In the course of community engagements, intelligence is gathered and follow-ups made upon it. In one such incidence in Princesstown-Aketekyi, a group of fishermen trying to beach illegally caught fish got marooned on the sea when they saw the marine policemen patrol ashore but because of the very inaccessibility of the area due to its bushy, craggy and rocky nature, the Unit could not apprehend them after spending almost two hours in the community. Despite this undesirable ending, the assemblyman John Sakyi thanked them for their presence: “It has at least put fear in them because they will realize that they cannot continue their activities with impunity. The law will definitely catch up with them and we shall all have our peace very soon”.

Illegal Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing is an issue of food and livelihood security must be tackled with seriousness by all stakeholders. “In fact the illegal activities are killing us. One invests a lot of money on an expedition only to come back with a few pans of fish. I wish the police will start arresting all of us immediately if we should continue using dangerous chemicals and light to fish. How can we feed our families and pay our debts if we return from sea empty-handed all the time?” This was intimated by the Egya Awotwe who is both an assemblyman and a chief fisherman in Dixcove in the Western Region of Ghana.

Fisheries employ 10% of Ghanaians through its value chain and therefore a big contributor to the economy. Civil society will therefore continue to seize all opportunities to collaborate with the Unit and other stakeholders to bring sanity to the area.