How can the fishing and offshore oil/gas industries co-exist?

Oil and fish are important resources in the global economy. Essentially, as nations strive to improve their economies and living standards of their people, adequate supplies of oil/gas and other natural resources are critical. It is suggested that in the near future energy demand will increase by 2% per year and oil/gas will continuing to be the dominant source of energy despite various efforts to develop renewable energies. Indeed, as Transnational Oil Companies (TNOCs) explore for more oil and gas, their activities are also shifting to deep water offshore drilling where fishery based activities have traditionally played a dominant role in national and local economies. Yet, as national governments, and TNOCs need oil revenues, there is also the need to recognize that in order to promote sustainable development, there is also the need for the oil and fishing industries to coexist by sharing the ocean space. Furthermore, it appears that the protection and maintenance of the fishing industry, the fishermen, and their communities should be a major priority for TNOCs and national governments. This is because the fishing industry is a source of employment and livelihoods as shown by pictures from fishing communities in the Western Region of Ghan.

Women waiting for fish
Women waiting for fish

Yet, offshore oil drilling can be an obstacle to the fishing industry in some countries if potential conflicts are not managed effectively. This is because the activities of oil companies can restrict the activities of local fishermen as most governments in Africa seemed more concerned with attracting FDIs and generations of revenues from oil activities than protecting the fishing industry. However, the fishing industry can be source of livelihoods and employment for thousands of the local population and any activity or program that affect it can have negative consequences on the local economy.

How can we manage such conflicting resources so as governments, oil companies and local communities will derive benefits?

Fishing equipment
Fishing equipment

In developing countries in Africa such as Ghana, there are concerns that the co-existence of the fishing and petroleum industries can be a challenge as national governments are more concerned with how to earn foreign exchange and the oil sector seems easily taxable for such purpose. This has made oil rich governments more concerned with the growth of the oil sector and not the fishing industry which is more informal and not easily taxable. There are therefore, concerns with the potential for: competition for and loss of access to traditional fishing grounds; seafloor debris or obstructions from the oil industry that could damage fishing gear and cause loss of fishing catch and time; pollution; and increased vessel traffic.

However, there are positive impacts of coexistence with the oil industry such as: increased emergency response resources in the area such as response to vessels in distress. The oil industry could also be a source of employment, incomes and development of local infrastructure such as the medical facility provided by Kosmos Energy, a TNOC in Ghana.

Medical Boat for communities along Abbey Lagoon in Western Ghana
Medical Boat for communities along Abbey Lagoon in Western Ghana

In order for the two industries to coexist, there is the need to acknowledge that both the fishing and the petroleum industries are legitimate users of the sea, take steps to minimize the negative impacts of the oil sector on the fishing industries, practicing of mutual avoidance and protection at sea, making efforts to avoid conflict, and to ensuring that fishermen and fishmongers have also even an improved economic opportunities after the petroleum activities. In the case of Ghana, a seismic vessel conducts a survey by towing sensors on.

A seismic vessel conducts a survey by towing sensors on cables
A seismic vessel conducts a survey by towing sensors on cables

To achieve such goals, there is the need for consultation with local communities on policies and programs, building of trust, and goodwill towards the needs and aspirations of immediate communities as they are the most affect by the oil industry. These will involve problem solving practices and providing appropriate financial support for the communities. However, in Ghana, the question still remains as to whether the fishing and oil industries can co-exist?

Authored by Pius Siakwah, PhD Student, TCD Geography

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