Case Study

January 8
4 mins

Blue Justice? Impacts of oil exploration on small-scale fishers in Ghana

Isaac Nyameke, John Nyanko, and Jecob Nhyriba
Pecan Field, an oil and gas field located offshore Ghana in the Gulf of Guinea. Picture from Offshore Technology, 2019.
In Ghana's Western region, over 150,000 small-scale fishers are struggling with the impact of offshore oil exploration, which has restricted their access to traditional fishing grounds. These regulations have drastically reduced their catch and income, deepening poverty and food insecurity. Despite limited resources and influence, the communities have actively campaigned for their rights.

In Ghana’s Western region, especially around Cape Three Points, small-scale fishers and their communities are grappling with the profound impacts of offshore oil discovery, exploration, and drilling (Adjei, 2017). The impacted coastline is about 202 km long, with a population of more than 2 million people, of which the majority are fishers and fish traders (including women who make up 40% of the fishers force, mainly working in processing and sales). Historically reliant on the ocean for their livelihoods, these communities are now confronting significant marginalization and exclusion from their traditional fishing grounds.

Figure 1: Fishermen mending their nets and expressing the impact of the oil drilling on their fishing outputs. Photo by Isaac Nyameke, 2023.

Following the oil discovery in the early 2000s (Moss and Young, 2009), the Ghanaian government introduced severe regulations that limited access to traditionally open and used fishing grounds. This move has adversely affected over 150,000 individuals across 113 fishing communities (Akyempon et al., 2013). The resulting decline in fisheries production has drastically reduced fishing communities’ livelihoods and income. Predominantly living below the poverty line, these communities not only depend on fishing for their economic survival but also as a vital source of nutrition.

Before the oil discovery, fishers enjoyed unrestricted access to the coast, allowing them to fish freely at any location and time. This unrestricted access was crucial for their economic stability and community well-being. However, the new restrictions have led to increased food insecurity, poverty, and a significant loss of rights for the fishers. The restrictions have had a ripple effect, impacting not only the fishers but also their families, as the income from fishing is often used for essentials like education and healthcare (Ackah-Baidoo, 2013; Adusah-Karikari, 2015).

Despite their limited influence on national policy and lack of resources for legal battles, these communities have shown resilience. Community-based organizations emerged as an act of resistance, for instance, the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen (Marquette et al., 2002). These organizations have led national campaigns, utilized social networks for advocacy, and organized demonstrations to raise awareness about their fight. Their efforts to negotiate with government agencies for changes in fishing regulations have seen some success, yet the primary goal of unrestricted fishing access remains elusive. 

Fishers defying these restrictions face severe consequences, including arrest and destruction of their equipment (Obeng-Odoom, 2014). Moreover, the government has accused fishers opposing offshore oil as influenced by the opposition political party, who are allegedly trying to discredit the current government. There is a pressing demand for capacity building in advocacy and policy development to empower these fishers and enhance their ability to navigate and influence the complex legal and political landscape.

Figure 2: Western Region fishermen, fishmongers, and communities demonstrate against the fishing ban and access to their fishing grounds in the oil drilling areas. Picture by Citinewsroom, 2023.


Nyameke Isaac, John Nyanko, and Jecob Nhyriba (2023). Blue Justice? Impacts of oil exploration in small-scale fishers in Ghana. N. Bennett & R. Lopez de la Lama (Eds.) The Ocean Defenders Project. Online at https://oceandefendersproject.org 


Ackah-Baidoo, A., 2013.Fishing in troubled waters: oil production, seaweed and community-level grievances in the Western Region of Ghana. Community Dev. J. 48, 406–420. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26166105 

Adjei, M., 2017. Governing the Ocean Space for the Coexistence of Fishery and Petroleum Industry in Ghana’s Western Region. Master’s thesis. University of Bergen. https://bora.uib.no/bora-xmlui/bitstream/handle/1956/16101/Governing-the-ocean-space.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y 

Adusah-Karikari, A., 2015. Black gold in Ghana: changing livelihoods for women in communities affected by oil production. Extr. Ind. Soc. 2, 24–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2014.10.006  

Akyempon, S., Bannerman, P., Amador, K., Nkrumah, B., 2013. Report on the 2013 Ghana Marine Canoe Frame Survey. Information Report No. 35. Fisheries Scientific Survey Division, Tema. https://www.crc.uri.edu/download/Ghana-Marine-Canoe-Frame-Survey-2013.pdf 

Marquette, C., Koranteng, K.A., Overå, R., Aryeetey, E.Bortei-Doku, 2002. Small-scale fisheries, population dynamics, and resource use in Africa: the case of Moree, Ghana. Ambio 31, 324–336. https://doi.org/10.1579/0044-7447-31.4.324

Moses Adjei and Ragnhild Overa .2018.Opposing discourses on the offshore coexistence of the petroleum industry and small-scale fisheries in Ghana. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2018.09.006

Moss, T.J., Young, L., 2009. Saving Ghana From Its Oil: the Case for Direct Cash Distribution. Working Paper 186. Center for Global Development, Washington, DC. https://www.cgdev.org/publication/saving-ghana-its-oil-case-direct-cash-distribution-working-paper-186

Obeng-Odoom, F., 2014. Black gold in Ghana: crude days for fishers and farmers? Local Environ. 19, 259–282. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2013.788481

Offshore Technology, 2019. Pecan Field. https://www.offshore-technology.com/projects/pecan-field/?cf-view&cf-closed&cf-closed


Declines of Biodiversity, Degradation of Ecosystems, Degradation or reduced supply of Ecosystem Services, Fish Abundance and Productivity, Pollution and Contamination, Underwater noise , Local communities, Small-scale fishers, Women , Offshore oil and gas exploration , Social movements, Legal and policy interventions, Public protests and demonstrations , Criminalization, Economic marginalization, Physical Violence, Political marginalization ,

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