Fishing with Insecticide

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The Atebubu District of Ghana borders the Volta Lake and is inhabited by Brong farmers and more recently Ewe from Togo. Lake and river fishing are important income earning activities in the area. The fishermen in the small fishing villages on streams and small feeder rivers to Lake Volta work under extremely exploitative conditions. Market middle people own the boats and buy the catch. Fishermen have no control over their market or their basic equipment. Market women from the large urban areas have for some time been supplying fishermen with "Gamalin 20," a locally produced lindane-based insecticide normally used on the cacao crop (Ghana's main foreign exchange earner). The fishermen would pour the poison into a stream, and then float downstream collecting the poisoned fish which float to the surface. The fishermen sell these fish to the same people who supply the poison and convey the fish to urban markets. Staff members of the Association of People for Practical Life Education (APPLE), a non-governmental organization in Ghana, have surveyed the area and found the practice to be common in all tributaries and small streams. It is for the most part a seasonal practice, being used during the dry season when water levels in streams and rivers are lowest.

Contacts with the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Council and the Aquatic Biology Center, confirmed that the practice is known, but that no government institution or ministry has yet tried to do anything about it. The Ministry of Agriculture, in charge of Ghana's aquacultural development, recognizes the problem, but tries to play down its scope and danger. It is the same ministry responsible for the poison getting into the wrong hands in the first place. Exposure of the practice would be embarrassing for many high-and middle-level administrators.

There seems to the little if any reliable measurement of the impact of this practice on the ecosystem. Fishing with poison overkills fish; every year the fish population drops by about 10 percent. Fewer fish means lower profits, which mean less money available to purchase expensive nets, hooks, and boats. More fishermen are being forced to use poison every year. Breaking out of this circle will become increasingly difficult.

The poisoning, however, is not limited to marketable fish. All fish and biological organisms in the streams are affected. Observers claim that lindane stays in the water for a long time. Villages downstream use the water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Local residents are already complaining of blurred vision, dizziness, and vomiting. Gemalin 20 is also used to poison "grass cultures," a large rodent that is hunted during the dry season as a supplement to the regular diet.

The effects of the practice are widespread. APPLE has developed a unique program for the district that has reduced, in the two pilot-tested villages, the practice of using poison as a fishing tool to a level that is allowing the fish populations to once again rise from year to year. Funding for the project, however, has not been forthcoming from the Ghanaian Government or international lending institutions.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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