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In Ghana, not all see oil as a blessing

posted 31 May 2011, 05:18 by Mpelembe   [ updated 31 May 2011, 05:23 ]

Fishermen near Ghana's oil producing areas are concerned that a 500-meter no-fishing zone that surrounds the Jubilee field drilling operations will affect their livelihood.

Fishermen paddle boats along the sea headed to Akwidae, a village on the shores of western Ghana, not far from an offshore oil platform that started pumping crude oil in December.

Promises of new roads, electricity and better schools followed Ghana's oil find but as exploration activities began, many here say they have not seen the benefits.

Now fishermen fear their livelihood is also at risk.

Local fish stocks had already been decimated over the past two decades by over-fishing and illegal pair trawling.

Some fear the decline is getting worse as the lights used by the oil platform and drilling rig attract fish to within the 500-metre (1,500 feet) no-fishing zones around them. While such assertions are hard to prove, they have gained local currency.

"When I go to sea I don't get anything. in the past there used to be a lot of small fish that the big ones follow but now because of the lights and some people also using chemicals, all the fish are gone," said David Gasu, a local fisherman.

"Our expectation was that the oil was coming to give us employment but instead it has affected our source of livelihood and we are now jobless," said Stephen Krom, another fisherman.

It is still early days for Ghana's oil and gas industry, where daily production is set to reach 120,000 barrels this year and more than double to 250,000 barrels by 2013.

Few in the West African nation of 24 million expect local grumblings to turn any time soon into the militant action seen in Nigeria's Delta region, which at its 2006 peak cut more than a quarter of the country's oil production.

But if promises of employment do not start to come through soon, local disappointment could turn into anger with President John Atta Mills' government ahead of the December 2012 election.

The government target is for Ghanaians to fill 90 percent of jobs in what it calls "strategic areas" of the sector by 2020 and more than 500 firms are training some 2,000 locals to become welders, electricians and firefighters.

Some in this fishing village hope there is some good yet to come.

"We are in our town and they have discovered oil here so automatically we have to achieve something from our town here so we can't move to any place," said Nana Kweku Nketia, a caretaker of the Akwidae fishing community.

Kofi Agboga, a coordinator at the Coastal Resources Center in Ghana says irresponsible fishing practices are also contributing to the dwindling stocks.

Officials say fishermen are using their own lights to attract the fish and blast dynamite to trap them.

"The traditional fishing grounds of some of these fishermen may be affected but the crop of the matter is that the practices that they themselves (fishermen) are using are obnoxious, they are illegal and until we are able to drum home these to them it is difficult for them to understand," he said.

Ghana's fishing industry contributes nearly 5 percent to GDP and is a source of livelihood to 10 percent of the country's population.