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FEATURE STORYMarch 3, 2023

Fisheries Under Pressure - from Ghana to the Caribbean

Fishing boats at Winneba, Ghana. Photo credit: Morgan Graham/World Bank

Fishing boats at Winneba, Ghana. Photo: Morgan Graham/World Bank.


  • Overfishing, plastics, habitat destruction and warming waters are depleting fisheries.
  • 3 Eastern Caribbean countries will work together to combat illegal fishing while bolstering tourism, waste management, and resilience to climate change.
  • In Ghana, a mangrove management project aims to revive coastal fisheries while storing carbon.

Traditional wooden fishing boats are docked at the coastal town of Winneba, Ghana. Their catch is sold by fishmongers in the market onshore. In recent years, the boats have brought in smaller numbers of fish. “Between climate change and other pressures, the local communities have said they are catching less fish and more plastic,” said Kofi Agbogah, Director of Hen Mpoano, a Ghanaian non-governmental organization focused on fisheries and coastal ecosystem governance.

Overfishing, plastics, habitat destruction, and warming waters have depleted the ocean’s natural bounty and particularly hurt Ghana’s artisanal fishing community. By 2050, climate change alone could reduce Ghana’s potential catches by 25% or more, threatening a key food source and way of life.  

Many West African countries face a similar outlook. By 2050,  Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Liberia, and São Tomé and Príncipe could see the catch potential of their fishing grounds decline by 30% or more because of climate change, according to a 2019 World Bank study. By 2100, it could drop by more than 40% in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Such impacts won’t be confined to the West African coast. Globally, climate change is causing some serious changes in the ocean, even as overfishing squanders $80 billion annually in foregone economic benefits. The ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic as it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Ocean current patterns are changing and affecting the nutrients needed for aquatic plants that nourish young fish so that they can survive to adulthood. Changing water temperatures are also causing fish to move to cooler waters. As a result, some countries at higher latitudes could see less impact on their fisheries while others see a dramatic decline.

Ocean waves in St. Lucia

St. Lucia, Eastern Caribbean. Photo credit: World Bank. 

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is also reducing fish stocks across the Atlantic Ocean in the Caribbean. In 2017, the International Union for Conservation of Nature warned that overfishing and the degradation of coral reefs across the Caribbean and Pacific islands were pushing many fish, including food sources like tunas and groupers, towards extinction.


Unleashing a Blue Economy in the Eastern Caribbean

In response, three Caribbean countries are joining forces with the regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States to combat illegal fishing while bolstering tourism, waste management, and resilience to climate change. Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are close together geographically and have worked together to develop marine spatial planning as a way of sustainably managing their marine and coastal natural resources. All three face the challenges of economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of the hurricane season. At the same time, the overexploitation of marine resources threatens their economies – heavily dependent on fishing and tourism – and way of life.

A new project, Unleashing the Blue Economy of the Caribbean, will strengthen cooperation among governments in the Caribbean over the next 15 years to protect the integrity of their shared coastal and marine natural habitats. The program is funded with $56 million in credits and grants from IDA, and $4 million from the PROBLUE trust fund.

The “Blue Economy” refers to the sustainable use of coastal and marine natural resources for economic growth and improved livelihoods and jobs, all while maintaining the integrity and health of coastal and marine ecosystems.

“Given the geographical proximity of these Eastern Caribbean countries, a regional approach makes sense because by joining forces you can combat illegal fishing and destructive fishing practices in a much more effective manner,” said World Bank Senior Environmental Specialist Cary Anne Cadman.

Likewise, a regional approach to tourism and waste management can boost the region's recovery and protect the stability, integrity, and health of coastal ecosystems. A key goal is to help the region transition to high value tourism that has less environmental impact. Aquaculture, such as farmed seafood and seaweed, holds potential to generate new jobs. The program will invest in women-owned and managed businesses, which were hardest hit by the pandemic, through a regional matching grants program; it will also empower women in the fisheries sector by giving them access to the Caribbean Ocean Aquaculture Sustainability Facility climate risk fisheries insurance, which protects livelihoods in the event of extreme weather.

The first phase of the project has been launched and the next phases will gradually add other Caribbean countries over the course of 15 years.

The World Bank
Fishermen in Ghana. Photo credit: Andrea Borgarello/World Bank.


Planting Mangroves to Revive Fish Habitats in Ghana

In West Africa, Ghana will plant mangroves to revive fish habitats and protect its coast through the $13.5 million Mangrove Blue Carbon Pilot Program. The program, supported by IDA, the PROBLUE trust fund, and the Danish energy company Ørsted, will plant and maintain 3,000 hectares of mangrove trees along the coast over the next 20 years. Mangroves thrive in water, protect shorelines, and store more carbon than forests on land. They also provide nutrients and shelter for young fish and can help restore fish populations.

Ghana has also joined the West Africa Coastal Areas Management Program (WACA) supporting fisheries and efforts to reduce coastal erosion, flooding, and pollution, thereby promoting sustainable fisheries in nine countries. Ghana is making other efforts, such as its  decision to close its waters to fishing  for a period each year to allow fisheries to recover – an initiative expected to remain in place.

So far, WACA has leveraged $650 million to make coastal resilience in West Africa a reality, with ambition to do more of the same across the African continent. This goal could be achieved under the new World Bank Blue Economy for Resilient Africa Program (BE4RAP), aimed at scaling up successful programs for healthy and productive coastal areas that boost people’s resilience to climate change, food security, and national economies.

From Ghana and the Caribbean to the South Pacific and around the world, protecting and investing in nature’s coastal and marine resources will pay dividends for countries, communities, biodiversity, and the climate.


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