Oysters, a delicacy in many countries, are a critical food staple and source of income for many fisherwomen in Ghana. The women who harvest this healthy, locally-sourced seafood along Ghana’s coastline are making a vital contribution to improving food security and nutrition in the region. However, in recent years, fisherwomen have been contending with the growing threat of declining stocks that threatens oyster harvesting in Ghana. Fortunately, there are ongoing efforts to restore Ghana’s oyster habitats and introduce sustainable fishery practices that will help replenish its oyster population.
Fisherwomen in Ghana
Fisherwomen in Ghana traverse the estuarine habitats of marshes, mangrove swamps and tidal flats and gather the mangrove oysters that reside within their mud, sand and roots by hand. This manner of oyster harvesting is common in many West African countries, including Benin, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. As most of the shore-based fishers who collect invertebrates like oysters are female — which is a global pattern — collection-based oyster fisheries are particularly important for the lives and livelihoods of women living in the coastal regions of developing countries. Therefore, the radical decline of Ghana’s oyster population, due to a combination of population growth, increased strain on resources and loss of habitats, has potentially devastating consequences.
Tackling the Problem
In response to the decline, the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP) has partnered with a local NGO, the Development Action Association, and the Ghana Fisheries Commission to tackle the problem. The initiative focuses on the communities of Tsokomey, Tetegu and Bortianor in the Densu Delta of the Greater Accra region, where much of Ghana’s oyster harvesting occurs. Providing on-the-ground support since 2016, the project has helped local harvesters establish the Densu Estuary Women’s Oyster Pickers Association (DOPA), an organization of more than 150 women who are working to restore oyster habitats and implement sustainable harvesting practices. By providing leadership training to DOPA members and educating them on oyster ecology, reproductive cycles and sustainable aquaculture management, the project is empowering fisherwomen in Ghana to protect the fisheries on which they depend.
Restoring local oyster fisheries is critical for sustaining Ghana’s coastal population. For instance, in the Greater Accra region, income from oyster harvesting accounts for an average of 45% of total household income. The harvested oysters are steamed and sold at the local market, and some even sell the shells for use in road construction, poultry grit and lime flour.
Furthermore, oysters are an important part of local diets, especially for women. For example, a 2022 study found that women in Ghana’s Bortianor/Tsokomey region consume up to 1,700 grams of oysters, which is equivalent to about 470 oysters, per month. High in iron, zinc, omega-3 and other fatty acids, oysters are a rich source of protein and nutrients. Their high iron content, specifically, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing anemia, a condition that is alarmingly prevalent in Ghana, especially among pregnant women. In fact, Ghana’s coastal regions have the lowest recorded rates of anemia in the country, with anemia afflicting 4% of the coastal population, as compared to 5% of the population in Ghana’s forest regions and 15% in its savannah regions.
While the loss of important oyster stocks poses a severe threat to both the health and livelihood of fisherwomen in Ghana, USAID and its partner organizations recognize the importance of protecting Ghana’s oyster fisheries and habitats. Its work to support local communities to bolster oyster harvesting in Ghana is also helping to restore hope for the future.
– Amy McAlpine