The impacts of environmental forcing on the dynamics of demersal fishery resources of Ghana
The dynamics of demersal fish species assemblages and stocks on the continental shelf of Ghana, West Africa were investigated using data from trawl surveys conducted between 1963 and 1990, and in relation to marine environmental and nearshore forcing factors. Time series analysis was used to examine the dynamics of the marine environment. Classification and ordination methods were used to identify fish assemblages and to identify factors that determine assemblage formation and dynamics. The response of the identified assemblages to changes in the Ghanaian shelf ecosystem were assessed. Between 1964 and 1992, three distinct environmental time blocks (ETBs) in the continental shelf ecosystem off Ghana were recognised. In the first ETB (i. e. before 1972) sea surface and bottom temperatures were relatively high and salinity was low. The second ETB (1972 - 1982) was characterised by low temperatures, high but stable salinity, reduced rainfall and freshwater input into the sea. In the third ETB (1982 - 1992), the system bore a resemblance to the first block with rising temperatures and decreasing salinity. Six fish species assemblages were identified, namely the supra-thermocline sciaenid and lutjanid assemblages, two sparid assemblages (shallow and deep elements), the deep shelf assemblage and the upper slope assemblage. During ETB I and ETB3, the assemblages were easier to identify using ordination techniques, than during ETB2. Species diversity also decreased during ETB2 especially in waters between 10 and 50 m deep. This behaviour of the assemblagesis attributed to the increase in abundance of Balistes capriscus, a species that dominated the ecosystem for nearly 20 years from about 1971, and the observed environmental changes. The estimated density of demersal fish was higher in the upwelling season than in the thermocline season and decreased from 50 kg ha-1 in 1963-64 to 32.4 kg ha-1 in 1990. The density reached its lowest value of 22.5 kg ha-1 in the period between 1973 and 1977. The potential yield of the total demersal biomass (excluding triggerfish) is estimated to be 36,000 - 55,000 mt per annum. With landed catches exceeding 60,000 mt in some years, it is apparent that the resource is over-exploited. A number of policy options are discussed and recommendations for the management of the fishery are made.