Fish vs. Oil Part 1: A Delicate Balance

We are all familiar with the devastating impact that oil spills have on sea life and the fishing industries. More than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska's coast, the local fishing industry has never fully recovered. Scientists estimate that it may take another decade before we will see the full impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

As I wrote in my last post, the offshore oil industry also impacts fishing even when things are going well.  Offshore drilling rig structures as well as their powerful lighting attract fish. If you do a quick online search, for example, you’ll find a number of U.S. sports fishing websites with pages dedicated to fishing around offshore oil rigs. The problem in Ghana, however, is that the area around the Jubilee field drilling operations is off-limits to fishermen.

Fishermen in the Western Region are complaining that their catches are down significantly since drilling work began several years ago. They blame this on the no-fishing zone and the increase in shipping traffic that has accompanied oil development. According to several fishermen I spoke with, increased shipping traffic means a heightened risk of collision; more ballast water dumped into the sea and increased noise, which scares away fish.

In this video, Edlove Quarshie, a Sekondi-based fisherman and the Assistant Secretary of the Link Hook Canoe Fishermen Association, talks about the difficulties he and his colleagues face now that they are “competing” with the oil industry.

Fish vs. Oil. It doesn’t have to be this way, but at the moment the relationship between fishermen and the oil industry is not good. Fishermen – and those who work with them – make up a significant percentage of Ghana’s workforce. If people in the fishing industry believe the government is favoring oil development over the needs of the fishing communities, this does not bode well for Ghana.