Health crisis in Ghana’s fishing industry: Women face dangers from smoking fish

Ghana’s fishing industry serves as the lifeblood of its economy, offering livelihoods to two million people, equivalent to one in every 16 Ghanaians.

Artisanal fishers, spanning from Aflao to Cape Three Points, contribute significantly by supplying eighty percent of the nation’s consumed fish.

However, within this vital industry, experts highlight a particularly perilous aspect: the smoking of fish for preservation, a task exclusively undertaken by women.

In a collaborative effort between Adom TV’s Owusu Asiedu and New Narratives, the adverse health effects on these women in the coastal Accra community of Jamestown were explored.

In Jamestown, where the air is infused with the scent of the sea and seagulls echo through the skies, men, women, and children engage in the laborious process of sorting a mountain of fish pulled ashore from boats.

Abigail, a third-generation fishmonger in her family, contemplates being the last in line due to the toll it had on her mother, Mansa Tetteh, over thirty years of fish smoking. Abigail recounts her mother’s decline, marked by red eyes, blurred vision, a persistent cough, chest pains, and sleepless nights.

Mansa Tetteh’s health deteriorated rapidly, attributed to constant exposure to smoke and physical strain.

The culmination of these factors led to high blood pressure and a severe case of malaria, requiring hospitalization at Kolebu Hospital in Accra.

Mansa Tetteh’s story is not unique; thousands of Ghanaian women face similar health challenges from engaging in fish smoking, a crucial method for preserving up to 70% of the fish consumed in the country.

Traditional smoking techniques, often over firewood in metal drums or mud stoves, expose women to respiratory illnesses, eye irritations, headaches, and even life-threatening conditions like cancer.

In West Africa alone, an estimated 6 million fish smoking ovens contribute to this health crisis.I

In Jamestown, around 150 fishmongers, out of a nationwide total of 170,000, grapple with effects of air pollution on their health.

The dire situation extends beyond the women themselves, affecting unborn children, infants, and young children exposed to the smoke.

Doctors warn of potential risks, including asthma and issues with brain development in children exposed to such conditions.

Despite being well aware of the dangers, the women in Jamestown feel trapped in their profession, lacking alternative means to earn a living.

Health experts recommend practical measures for women to reduce risks, including minimizing time spent with smoke, smoking outdoors with ventilation when possible, and keeping babies and children away from the harmful effects.

Dr. Antwi Amoah, Deputy Director of the Climate Change Department at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sheds light on the hidden dangers posed by smoldering smoke, affecting the eyes and lungs of fishmongers.

Dr. Antwi Amoah underscored the silent threat of soot, smoke, dust, and carbon monoxide, all binding with blood cells and stifling oxygen flow.

Dr. Obeng Apori, a seasoned medical practitioner, emphasizes the intricate ways inhaling smoke can impact the well-being of fishmongers.

Dehydration, cramps, liver problems, kidney failure, premature births, stillbirths, and emaciated babies are among the documented consequences.

Dr. Apori further explained that, inhaling smoke deprives the body of oxygen, potentially leading to strokes, chronic respiratory diseases, heart attacks, and even death.

Dr.Amoah also urged families to buy improved smoke stoves, now accessible in Local markets, to further reduce exposure.


This story was a collaboration between Adom Online and New Narratives. Funding was provided by the Clean Air Fund. The funder had no say in the content of the story.