Saiko, originally an informal trading system where unwanted industrial bycatch would be exchanged at sea for fruit and livestock brought by canoes, is now a part of targeted fishing for trawlers in Ghanaian waters. The practice is illegal, while it puts industrial fishing vessels in direct competition with small-scale fishers for catches of species such as sardinella that are a staple food for local communities.

Having effectively ‘stolen’ fish from canoe fishers, saiko operators sell these back to the same fishing communities for profit, the Environmental Justice Foundation has informed.

Images taken by the Fisheries Enforcement Unit reveal the sheer volume of fish that may be transported in a saiko canoe – an average saiko trip lands 26 tonnes of fish, the equivalent of around 400 traditional ‘artisanal’ canoe trips.

Saiko is illegal under Ghanaian law, attracting a fine of between US$100,000 and US$2 million. The minimum fine increases to US$1 million where catches involve juvenile fish or the use of prohibited fishing gear. The owner and crew of the saiko canoe intercepted on Wednesday have been arrested and taken in for questioning.

This is essential work on the part of the Ghanaian government and follows the positive steps already taken this year to stop saiko, such as placing observers on vessels. These enforcement actions must now be followed by deterrent sanctions,

...says EJF Deputy Director Max Schmid.