Small pelagic fish populations are the main catch of local canoe fishers and are at risk of imminent collapse. (Photo: EJF)
Chinese vessel fined USD 1 million for illegal fishing
Wednesday, October 16, 2019, 00:50 (GMT + 9)
Owners of the Chinese fishing vessel, Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956 will have to pay a USD1 million fine for illegal fishing in Ghana and additional USD 22,700 (GHS 124,000) for having fish onboard.
The Chinese trawler was apprehended in Ghanaian waters having caught at least 13.9 tonnes of ‘small pelagic’ fish in a single day, using illegal nets. These fish populations are the main catch of local canoe fishers and are at risk of imminent collapse, threatening the livelihoods and food security of communities across the coast.
Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956 in Accra (Ghana capital) port
The use of the full USD 1 million fine is a welcome sign that the government is cracking down on the illegal and destructive practices of industrial trawlers, says the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
Known as the ‘people’s fish’ in Ghana, small pelagics, such as sardinella, are the main catch for small-scale canoe fishers and a staple food in the country. However, populations have crashed over the past two decades and scientists predict the imminent collapse of the fishery if urgent action is not taken.
A major driver of this decline is the destructive ‘saiko’ trade, where industrial bottom trawlers illegally target small pelagic fish. The catches are unloaded on to specially adapted saiko canoes out at sea, before being sold to local communities.
Size of the fishing fleet and percentage of fleet reduction to attain sustainable fishing effort (Source: EJF)
The small-mesh nets found on board – which are illegal for an industrial trawler – show that this vessel was specifically targeting small pelagics. Analysis of the catch also showed that a significant proportion were undersized juveniles.
Examining the case, EJF used tracking technology to determine that the vessel left port at around midnight on June 16. Since it was apprehended later that day, this means that the trawler was able to take 13.9 - 19.6 tonnes of these fish in a single day. A normal fishing trip will last 30-45 days or more. This confirms the devastating impact that illegal fishing by industrial trawlers is having on Ghana’s small pelagic fishery.
Ghana's geographical location
The Marine Police brought charges against the Chinese Captain, Chief Engineer and Second officer, and two Ghanaian crew members. Around 90 % of Ghana’s industrial fishing fleet is linked to Chinese ownership, an investigation by EJF revealed last year. As Ghana’s fisheries laws prohibit foreigners from engaging in joint ventures in the industrial trawl sector, Chinese organisations operate through Ghanaian ‘front’ companies, using opaque corporate structures to import their vessels and register and obtain a licence.
Appearing before an out-of-court settlement committee, the owner of the vessel agreed to pay a fine of USD 1 million. This is the statutory minimum fine under Ghana’s 2014 Fisheries Amendment Act. However, this is the first time that it has been imposed on an industrial trawl vessel, and since the Act came into force other perpetrators have paid lower sums despite the law.
EJF’s Executive Director Steve Trent said: “Over 2 million people in Ghana rely on small pelagic fish for their food and income. The government should be applauded for cracking down on illegal and destructive practices that are endangering Ghanaian livelihoods and food security. The concern now is ensuring that the fine is paid in full. In the past, fines have been negotiated down or opaque out-of-court settlements have obscured whether the law has been enforced. It is vital that this fine is paid to deter others, and that the outcome of this and other cases are published on the Ministry’s website.”