The sinister side of Ghana’s fishing Industry

Ghana’s coast is lined with fishing villages large and small. Fish are big business, and one of Ghana’s biggest export commodities, earning about 318 million US dollars in 2014. As well as salt water fishing, the largest man made reservoir in the world, Lake Volta – which covers 8500 square kilometers – is also lined with many fishing villages.

At some point in Ghana’s history certain religious rituals were developed in connection with fishing. To this day fishermen observe Tuesday as a sacred day and their day of rest, or use the time for repairs. It is forbidden to sell fresh fish at the market on a Tuesday. In the past this was enforced with penalties, but perhaps more worrying were the stories shared of the River and Sea Gods who would bring to the individual and community frightful disasters, such as gales and drowning. It is also believed that wearing shoes or cooking fish on the beach will drive the fish away, although some younger generations are now flouting these taboos. No one knows how long these beliefs will last but for now fishermen are called to account by tribal leaders if they are found to be breaking these traditions.

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Ocean fishing usually involves wooden canoes, built by hand in the forest regions of Ghana. These are either rowed by hand, or if finances allow, powered by a small outboard motor. Nets are cast and the canoes rowed back to shore. Large groups of people will then manually pull the nets onshore, usually with some singing and cheering.

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At first glance this is a bright, bustling and colourful business. However, according to authorities Ghana’s thriving fishing industry is primarily powered by as many as 50,000 children, a significant proportion of which have been sold and trafficked for slave labour.

In 1966 the Akosombo dam was completed and 8000 square kilometers of fertile land was flooded to create the Volta reservoir. Many trees suddenly became partially submerged underwater and consequently died. Their pale stumps now rise from the water like some sort of tree graveyard. These stumps pose a big problem to fishermen because their nets become tangled and caught on the branches underwater. Often the children are sent to dive down and free the nets, a process which can be deadly. In addition, many of the children are spending long hours in the water carry out back breaking work, are improperly cared for and not attending school. In 2013 ten were rescued from slavery, the youngest was just 5 years old.

The traffickers pray on poor families and the parents are told the children will receive an education in exchange for a few hours work. In reality they are probably doing 14 hour days with little food and no education.

Slavery is still a huge issue worldwide and although Ghana may have moved on the days of Trans Atlantic slave trade, these smaller pockets of slavery still exist, both in fishing and mining. If you want to help, take a look at Free The Slaves.

Cape Three Points

Being a tourist in Ghana requires a certain amount of determination, enthusiasm and sense of adventure. In fact most main stream travel guides ignore it altogether or offer it a mere mention. Lonely Planet allocates just 33 pages for the whole country in their West Africa guide book. So instead we turn to Bradt, whose author describes Ghana as an unpackaged destination, free from snappy happy coachloads. May favourite quote, however, explains that Ghana provides plenty of opportunity for whimsical exploration.

That seems to be a fairly accurate description of our visit to Cape Three Points. This little peninsula is Ghana’s most southerly point. It also boasts the prestige of being the closest piece of land to where the meridian and the equator intersect. We were staying at Lou Moon lodge for the weekend, just 25km from Cape Three Points as the crow flies, so I figured why not ask our driver, Stephen, to take us there.

Not really knowing the area he stopped to ask for directions. We were advised to drive to Agona and soon after leaving the town we stopped again for directions. We continued until we found the right hand turn following a hand written sign towards Cape Three Points. This is where the road turned to dirt and the 4 wheel drive had to be engaged. I knew this unsurfaced section was 25km long from the Bradt Guide, but I had no idea it would take a full hour to travel that distance. The road was badly rutted from rainfall and progress was painfully slow at times.

We bounced slowly from village to village, passing pedestrians carrying their produce on their heads, or trotro’s (local minbuses) rattling along the pothole-ed road. If this road was bouncy in our 4 wheel drive I can only imagine how uncomfortable a trotro must be! We passed a rubber plantation with rows of breeze block houses for the workers and eventually, after driving through many small villages, we reached the Cape Three Points village. A young boy on a bicycle pointed us towards the lighthouse and we passed an ominously closed ‘Tourist Service Centre’.

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We then climbed a final steep section of even more basic track, wondering if we might have to get out and walk, before popping out next to the lighthouse. From the description in the guidebook I had expected something a little more grand…… The little lighthouse, built in 1925, sits 30m above the sea with sheer rocks falling away. A rather tired looking directional sign points out significant locations around the world and their distances, we couldn’t help but spot Singapore pointing out across the Atlantic Ocean.

The fact that we had driven for two hours, one of which was along this bouncy, slow road to reach this ‘attraction’ made me burst out laughing. After a few minutes the caretaker appeared from his house nearby and sat to chat before announcing the rain was near. Sure enough within 10 minutes there was a loud clap of thunder and the rain started. We hurried back to the car to tackle the dirt road in the rain, slipping and sliding even with 4 wheel drive.

As we reversed our two hour journey back to the lodge I couldn’t help but compare the trip to our recent visit to South Africa where we visited a similar attraction, the Cape of Good Hope. Here we parked our car and walked past many bus loads before climbing to the lighthouse. Near the top I almost couldn’t move for people and didn’t even bother with a picture of the directional sign since it was surrounded by everyone posing for their photograph.

Our visit to Cape Three Points may have been a four hour round trip epic, but the Bradt travel guide is right, it was free from snappy happy coach loads and ideal for the genuinely independent minded traveler!

Unfortunately these whimsical adventures do leave Stephen with a little car cleaning!

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