[Mr. Korsah was contacted and interviewed at the beach on a Tuesday, when fishermen believe they must not go to sea. He lives in Tema, a coastal town near Accra, with his wife and four of his six children. Mr. Korsah is in his forties, and has completed two years of elementary school. His home town is Apam, the same village where interviewer Ebenezer Mensah's father is from. They spoke in the Fanti language.]
I started fishing when I was about 15 years old. I was then in the second grade of primary school. Due to this fishing interest I could not complete my education. Before one becomes a fisherman, one has to join an established group. My father was a good fisherman, so I was privileged to have good group to understudy. During this period, I was the only small boy among them, so everybody could send me on errands or give me any job from washing of the equipment after a fishing expedition to carrying fishing gear from the beach to the building where we keep it. Gradually my father and the senior members of that group phased out and new members came to join, so I became a senior member. Presently I am the leader of my group.
I have to plan the methods of fishing for the group. There are two different methods that local fishermen use. The first is done from the shore between the hours of 4:30 a.m and 10:00 a.m. We use a wide net to enclose an area of the sea where we suspect there is a large school of fish. After enclosing that area with the net, we tie two long ropes to either end of it. Then all the fishermen pull the net from that spot until it emerges from the sea. This net is designed in a sack shape. With this method, any fish that happens to cross the path of the net as it is being pulled from the sea is trapped. Large amounts of catch can result by this method, which is very popular during the lean seasons when fishing in the deep sea would not be very profitable. It takes a lot of men to pull the dragnet from the sea. When the catch is great, about twenty men are needed at each side of the net.
The other method is by using a wooden canoe or pirogue and nets specially designed for use at sea. With this method, which is usually done at night, we normally follow the fish as they surface. I have a way of detecting the presence of fish. I normally use the pattern of the stars as indicators. We go into the sea about five-thirty in the evening and return about six the following morning. At night, as the moonlight shines on the sea, the scales on the fish shine in the water. Some of the scales can shine like lights under the ocean. In this way we are able to see the fish even if they are several kilometers away. By reading the stars I can locate the presence of fish even if they are very deep in the sea. This second method is used during the fishing season--between July and September--when herring are in abundance.
Fishing takes a lot of equipment. For each method we need a specially-made net that is suitable for that type of fishing. The nets are very expensive. They are mostly imported from abroad by the Ministry of Agriculture. We need an outboard motor to power the pirogue as we go out to sea. The outboard motor is also very expensive. Formerly, our fathers used wooden paddles to take the canoe whenever they went fishing. These days it is becoming very difficult to paddle, because we must go long distances due to lack of fish in our seas. Our fathers told us that they did not go into the deep seas before coming down with a heavy catch. These days due to over-fishing, a lot of the fish stock has been depleted. Some species are no longer available in our waters. It takes several fishing trips for one to see or catch any of these rare fish.
Some fishermen use dynamite and poisonous chemicals to get fish. This method is not good for us fisherman. We have formed a fishermen's watchdog committee to patrol the sea and the coast to determine if anybody is using dynamite or any other unprescribed method for fishing. The consequences of such methods are affecting every one of us.
Most fishermen have no money to buy all of the equipment that we need. The banks are not prepared to grant us loans since our job is normally associated with debts. There are a lot of risks in this work. As a result, we solicit the help of some rich fishermen and personalities in our society to help us acquire equipment. These people normally buy some pieces of fishing gear and rent them to the various fishermen. At the moment my group has no nets of its own. We normally hire the nets as needed.
We take an outboard motor and the different types of nets and ropes we need for each fishing trip. Should we fail to make a great catch, it means that we have incurred some debt which we have to pay. We also buy petrol, about 12 gallons for each trip. By the time we return we might have wasted all the 12 gallons. Here again if the catch is not so profitable we incur a lot of debts. Last year, for instance, we incurred a debt of over half a million cedis (at that time, about $1,000) during the lean season. Thank God, we were able to make enough money during the bumper harvest period to pay back these debts. Those who assist us in our business understand the risks involved so whenever we fail to pay we are able to come to an agreement to pay them later.
Due to the high costs of the equipment that we use in our business, fishing is becoming less and less profitable. But most of us have nowhere to turn to because of lack of a proper education, so we are forced to stay in it. Fishermen these days are really suffering.
When we bring in our catch, we sell everything to the fishmongers, who are all women. Every fishermen's group has its own group of fishmongers who buy their fish. There are no cross-overs here so when you go fishing and you don't bring in enough fish you not only lose and incur a lot of debt but you have a lot of pressure brought on you by the women who buy fish from your group.
The women are also very good to us. Whenever we need some financial assistance, they are willing to give it to us so that we can embark on our fishing expedition and enable them to have fish for sale. They know their livelihood depends on our success. They do all they can to assist us in our job. The fishmongers buy our fish, process them, and then sell them in the market. They always pay ready cash, which enables us to settle our debts.
The men in my group work very hard. No fisherman can afford to be lazy. Our job is very difficult. When I see signs of fish in the sea I quickly assemble the group--whether they like it or not--and we go fishing. Normally such events take place in the evenings so our wives suffer a lot. We normally lose evenings, especially when the bumper harvest is around. We are now in the fishing season and as you can see every fisherman is busy.
None of the fishermen, especially the local ones, fish on Tuesdays. It is a taboo for any fisherman to go out to sea on that day. Instead we mend our broken ropes and nets. We also do minor repairs on our wooden boats. Here in the fishing village funeral rites are performed on Tuesdays when everybody is at home.
What I really enjoy about fishing is the adventuring nature of the job. I learn new secrets in life at sea. There are a lot of experiences that I have gained that people on land would never ever experience. Sometimes we face very serious and dangerous storms which result in the drowning of our companions. In such a situation if you can't swim, you may die. We don't go with any safety equipment. We only rely on our experience.
I am always happy that I have fish at home for my family's meals.