Story

Ghana: Fishing in Oil's Ocean

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Fishermen in Ghana are known as exceptionally hard workers. Before each trip they prepare nets, motors, tools, and other supplies. Image by John Soper. Ghana, 2015.

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The Community Environmental Monitoring and Advocacy Group (CEMAG) has developed as a way to monitor the activities of the oil industry in Ghana's coastal areas. Image by John Soper. Ghana, 2015.

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A large portion of the fish caught in Ghana' waters is smoked in wooden smokehouses over clay ovens. It is then sold in the markets of Kumasi and Accra. Image by John Soper. Ghana, 2015.

“You get used to it,” says Mike Abaka-Edu, referring to the stench of dead fish that plagues his town. For centuries, Abaka-Edu and his ancestors have fished the waters of western Ghana. Fishermen here are revered for their hard work and bravery.

Given today’s economy and environment, fishermen now have to travel farther distances and spend days at a time in their large dugout fishing canoes to catch the same number of fish they did before. This problem has been further complicated by the development of large oil platforms along the western coast of Ghana. According to the Ministry of Petroleum, fishermen are obligated to stay at least 500 meters away from oil and gas facilities when fishing. However, fish are attracted to the light from the production facilities, and this makes it difficult for fishermen to catch much of anything close to the shore.

Over the last few years, Abaka-Edu and some of his friends have joined an advocacy organization called CEMAG (Community Environmental Monitoring and Advocacy Group) as a way to help inform fishermen about how to best conduct their business alongside the oil and gas companies. The organization hosts training sessions for fishermen on topics such as how to engage oil companies in conflict resolution. Abaka-Edu has found that CEMAG, with support from Friends of the Nation, an international NGO, has been effective in preventing and mitigating conflicts with the oil companies.

Some issues continue to persist. Since the summer of 2014, Tullow Oil, the company that owns the largest share of the resource, has been flaring gas to maintain high levels of production. Gas flaring releases harmful carcinogens into the air, and this has heightened worries that the presence of the oil industry may begin to have an adverse effect on the local environment and health of the people.

“Whenever something is going wrong in the community, as far as oil and gas issues are concerned, we are able to monitor and the little that we can do to save the situation, we do it,” said Abaka-Edu .

But not all the stories have had positive outcomes. One of the biggest conflicts surrounding the intersection of these two industries is the physical confrontation that can occur on the water. One of Abaka-Edu’s friends, Michael Nolcoe, told how one of his friends drowned in the ocean as a result of a near collision between his fishing vessel and an oil transportation ship.

“It was midnight and raining heavily. The canoe was crushed and the crew was in the sea. They were fighting to survive and one of my crew died,” Nolcoe said, going on to explain how the crew never received compensation for the incident because they were not able to remember the oil vessel’s identification number.

CEMAG has also worked to ensure that some of the revenue from the oil and gas resources is returned to western Ghana communities as a measure of corporate responsibility. According to Tullow's country report on Ghana, the company has invested nearly $8 million since 2010 in scholarships devoted to Ghanaian students.

Despite this, some prominent figures from the community believe the idea of corporate responsibility is not enough, and they disapproved of the government’s treatment of the oil resource. When commercial production of oil and gas began the government of Ghana declared that it was a national resource. Yet, while all regions of the country will experience the positive benefits of the oil revenue, only the western region has to endure the negative effects of its presence. One stakeholder upset by this method of revenue sharing is Nana Nketsia V, the Paramount Chief from Essikado, whose ancestors have been community leaders for centuries. The Chief described how the oil and gas industry, and its regulation by the government, amounts to modern day colonialism.

“It is wrong. Very, very wrong,” Nana Nketsia V said. This is part of the problem we are facing, mainly because we are just following the colonial paradigm...colonization was just intended to extract everything. So we created a government that follows this.”