Sex for fish, a reality fuelled by growing economic hardships in Ghanaian fishing communities

A GNA feature By Kweku Abdallah 

Takoradi, Nov. 28, GNA – The struggle for fish to escape poverty and improve lives has over the years birthed ‘’ sex for fish’’, a practice widely seen as the major cause of sexual exploitation under Gender Based Violence (GBV) in fishing communities. 

In a quest to sustain or improve livelihoods, women against their desires, morals, and conscience trade their bodies to get fish to sell, while men rely on this as a trap to give out fish. 

Is this practice a myth or reality?

Most rural fishing communities are poor because of lack of education and low income. 

Transactional sex involves exchanging sex for material support or other benefits. In most cases, young girls are involved. This practice entails coercing or enticing women and young girls into sex in exchange for fish to meet their basic needs. 

This practice has become one secret in most fishing communities, if not all, and has had a devastating effect on the persona, dignity, rights, and freedom of victims rendering the efforts of achieving GBV-free fishing communities a challenge.

The gender social dynamics of fishing communities – poverty, and transactional sex- increase women’s risk of developing Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and induce mental and emotional instability, particularly, in women.

For instance, Esi Arthur, (not her real name), is a 36-year-old fish seller in Bonyere, a fishing community in the Western Region. 

In the last nine years, she has been actively involved in this practice of sex for fish. Though, she has made the radical decision to stop the practice, her efforts have proved futile as the availability of fish to process and sell declines.

Unfortunately, the fishing business remains her only source of livelihood.

Esi shares her story amid ever flowing tears.

As the supply of fish diminishes, fishers, more than ever, demand sex in exchange for fish. This makes her feel like she has no other choice.

“Nine years ago, I had to agree to this to feed my children and that has been my story ever since. No man that I know is willing to give you free fish so that you pay back after selling them – they demand sex before they give you the fish,” she recounts.

 Esi explains that depending on the catch for the day, she gets at least two basins of fish after each expedition and in most cases, the best catch goes to women ready to give sex.

On some effects of the practice, Esi says she has become more vulnerable to men, has low self-esteem,  and most of the time, has to deal with unintended pregnancies.

 Besides, it is not a sustainable source of income.

Linda Ekuba, (not her real name), a 28-year-old fish seller at Biriwa in the Central Region, says she first yielded to the practice when she needed help the most and was almost depressed and felt hopeless.

With her three children, she says, it is impossible to feed them without selling fish. “So I agree to these men to have their way with me, after all, that is all they ever want and in exchange for some quantity of fish to sell.”

But her day of shame came when a fishermen asked her to offer her 12-year-old daughter’s body for some fish. “And oh, I felt so low, stupid and ashamed of my motherhood,” Ekuba painfully recounts.

With tears in her eyes, she reveals that her last two children are the results of the practice.

She is able to sell about 12 to 15 basins full of fish weekly from the barter, though she finds no dignity in her labour and will not like her children to emulate her.

Feeling reluctant to tell her story, 19-year-old Essuon, has been in the fishing business all her life at the expense of her education.

Her late mother was a fishmonger, and so that’s all she wants to be.

 However, she is now unsure of the future as she struggles for fish and other necessities to facilitate her work and to fend for herself and her child.

She also depends on barter for her livelihood.  

“These fishermen started forcing me for sex at a very tender age and were giving me nothing, but I started exchanging it for fish when my mother died and I had to make ends meet. Some give me fish to sell, others buy me clothes and other things.’’

Essuon says she still feels guilty about the practice but finds no way out of it, especially when her efforts to get fish on credit to sell yield no positive outcome.

“Who said this is a myth! This is my story and I know I’m not alone in this, there are many other women who are sexually exploited just to be given fish to sell to feed families, this is the reality here in my community. ’’

 In Akwidaa, a fishing community in the Western Region, a fisher who pleaded anonymity, says transactional sex has long existed in many fishing communities.

“It is not always men who ask for sex before giving out fish, sometimes these women come to us to offer themselves on condition that we give them a share of our catch,’’ he explains.

He, however, concedes that the practice is bad, given what the  women suffer just to feed their families.


Chief Superintendent George Appiah-Sakyi, Central Regional Director of the Ghana Police Service’s Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit, explains that sexual assaults of any kind, including rape, defilement, unnatural canal knowledge, and harassment, are regarded as serious offenses in Ghana.

However, the same cannot be said about transactional sex, which is always based on mutual agreement. 

He underlines education and sensitisation as being key to eliminating GBV in fishing communities.

 He says the discussion of the issues are crucial and urges all, especially journalists, to lead the front against sexual violence and all other forms of abuse in fishing communities.

Mrs. Emelia Abaka Edu, Western Regional President of the National Fish Processors and Trade Association (NAFTA), says years ago, fishing communities experienced bumper harvests so women were able to get fish at low prices to take to sell at markets.

However, the decline in stocks started about 20 to 25 years ago with its attendant hardships on all stakeholders, especially, single mothers who have to fend for their children alone.

With no father figure, the females become more vulnerable to the sex for fish trade.

“GBV is very prevalent in our communities and here you will see all forms of abuse –  men beat women, extort from them. They sexually and emotionally abuse them and that has been the story for as far as I can remember, because women usually do not have the voice to speak for themselves.”

On NAFPTA’s role in ending the inappropriate and unhealthy barter, the Regional President says the Association instituted measures to legally take up issues of abuse generally, but it has difficulty accessing legal aid. 

The Association is, however, doing well with community sensitisation and education programmes to build the capacity and empower women to say no to abuse.

It has also commenced the Village Savings and Loans to help solve some pressing financial needs of women and to help women improve their lots to fend for their families –  teaching them the safe ways of doing business to make a profit.

 “These loans are given to women in the Association who want to inject some money in their fishing businesses or want to do other things, with flexible payment methods. This is to allow them to work and pay just so that men do not succeed in enticing them with fish that they can afford to buy and sell.”

The President says it is time women considered other alternative livelihood options because the abuse and exploitation will be on the rise as the pressure on the sea and its resources worsens.

She advises women to start engaging in petty trading, farming, and other economic areas that can serve as sources of income.

She urges women to stand up for themselves and have the conviction that they can do without engaging in sexual agreements just for their survival.

 “Make decisions you will be proud of, be up and doing and independent, this way you attract the respect, help, and support that you need to get through your difficult times,”she advises.


Nana Kofi Krah, Chief Fisher of Elmina, states that some actions taken to deal with transactional sex in the past yielded some fruits but the growing economic hardships have resurrected the practice in many fishing communities.

 His fears are that age old practices die hard as succeeding generations inherit them.

Nonetheless, he believes that  improving access to formal education and sensitising community stakeholders to correct the wrongs and expanding alternative livelihoods for women will help to minimise the practice.

It is imperative that state and non state actors, development partners, victims and their perpetrators all join efforts today to find lasting solutions to this cancerous barter trade to save tomorrow’s generation.