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Seafood imports hit US$290m in 2021

The total value of seafood and fish products imported into Ghana amounted to US$290million last year, a marginal increase of less than 1 percent over the preceding year’s value, latest report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has indicated.

The report, dated March 22, 2022, said the amount constituted some 343,000 metric tonnes of seafood and fish products imported in 2021, and added that the imports comprised common fish products such as mackerel, horse mackerel, sardines, hake, croaker, sea bream and red snapper.

With imposed lockdowns in the last quarter of 2019, particularly in Europe and Asia, coupled with travel restrictions and decline in tourism during the peak COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry was hit hard and this impacted seafood trade in significant ways, as there was a dip in imports of seafood recorded in 2019 to the tune of US$185million.

However, trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that U.S. seafood exports to the country reached an all-time high of US$7.9million in 2017 and remained above US$7million prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, after which a sharp decline was observed, with recorded sales of US$1.3million in 2020.

But the USDA report indicated that the US$1.3million recorded in 2020, more than doubled in 2021, reaching U$2.9million in 2021, with the report clearly stating: “Growth in import demand of seafood and fish products is expected to continue with Ghana’s economy reviving to pre-pandemic growth pattern, as the population increases, and local fish production continue to stagnate”.

The report also mentioned the rapid growth in the country’s hospitality industry in general and the food services subsector in particular as the reasons why the seafood subsector will continue to remain attractive to importers.

Indeed, Ghana has one of the highest rates of dependence on fish for nutrition in Africa, with fish providing 60 percent of animal protein intake and estimated per capita fish consumption at 25kg.

The report indicates that Ghana’s seafood market presents an excellent opportunity for U.S. suppliers in the long term, if nothing is done to prioritise domestic fisheries production as well as innovations to replenish depleting stocks in the country’s territorial waters.

Current fisheries sector woes

The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD) has been creating awareness and implementing closed seasons as measures to replenish the country’s depleting fish stocks. Though the ministry had said there was enormous success chalked in the last closed season, Fisheries Minister, Mavis Hawa Koomson, admitted that there is still a lot of work to do.

In 2014, Ghana prohibited imports of tilapia in all forms as a means of protecting local producers, with more recent import bans, citing the threat of Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV). In a move to encourage domestic fish farming in the face of pervasive IUU fishing activities, government has reiterated in February 2022 that this ban is still in force.

Despite the ban, local producers are still not meeting domestic demands.

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