Fishing characteristics and catch composition of the sardinella fishery in Ghana indicate urgent management is needed

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The sardinella (Clupidae) fishery in Ghana is vital to food and economic security for millions of people along the coast. Sardinella catches, however, have recently been declining and little is known about the current fishery characteristics. To address this gap, we sampled 8 sites along the coast of Ghana from 2017–2018 and collected data on over 14,000 fishes from 332 fishing trips of fishers targeting the two species of sardinella locally exploited, i.e. the round sardinella (Sardinella aurita) and the flat sardinella (Sardinella maderensis). The primary fishing gears were beach seines, purse seines, and gill nets. We distinguished three distinct types of purse seines based on mesh size: “poli” had mesh sizes of 3 cm or below (despite regulations deeming these illegal); “watsa” had mesh sizes of greater than 3 cm; and “poli-watsa” had a combination of mesh sizes across this range. Differentiation of gill nets was based on either monofilament (called “set net”) or cotton (called “ali”). These fishing nets ranged in length from 54 m to almost 1000 m, and poli-watsa was the most dominant gear as it was responsible for 37% of the total catch. Fishing vessels ranged from 5 – 23 m and crew sizes were from 2 – 30 individuals per vessel. Fish dissections and landings data indicated that S. aurita had a length at maturity of 14.7 cm and 62% of landed individuals were immature. The length at maturity for S. maderensis was 15.2 cm and 75% of landings were immature. Poli-watsa was the dominant gear for S. aurita, which was captured in significantly deeper areas (mean = 31.8 m) than S. maderensis, which was mostly caught with gill nets at a mean depth of 22.8 m. Considering the dominance of juveniles in the landings, coupled with recent declines in catch per unit effort, management is urgently needed to prevent collapse of this economically, socially, and ecologically important fishery.

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Regional Studies in Marine Science