Watchdog urges govt to deny licenses to new Chinese trawlers

Watchdog Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has deepened its call on the government to resist any attempt by the Fisheries Commission to issue licences to three Chinese trawlers that have been registered to the Ghanaian flag and are awaiting licensing, despite a moratorium on new fishing vessels due to extreme over-capacity in the existing fleet.

The pressure group alleged that already, 90 per cent of Ghana’s industrial trawl fleet is linked to Chinese ownership, saying “Ghana has the largest registry of Chinese distant-water vessels outside China.”

The new vessels—Yu Feng 1, 3 and 4—were all built-in China in 2016 and were all flying the Chinese flag before arriving in Ghana. To bypass Ghana’s laws, which prohibit foreigners from engaging in joint ventures in the industrial trawl sector, Chinese corporations operate through Ghanaian “front” companies, using opaque corporate structures to import their vessels, register and obtain a licence, EJF said.

Ghana’s Fisheries Management Plan states that 48 trawlers are the most that the fishery can sustain, yet EJF said 72 trawlers are currently licensed.

A government moratorium on fishing licences for new or replacement trawl vessels has been in force since 2012.

The Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council has also opposed the licensing of the new trawlers in an open letter the council sent to the Fisheries Commission.

“Our fish stocks in Ghana are in crisis and the small pelagic fishery—the lifeline of our artisanal fishing communities—is on the verge of collapse. As identified in the 2015-2019 Fisheries Management Plan, there are already too many trawlers fishing in Ghana’s waters,” the council said in the letter.

The canoe council highlighted in its letter that the new trawlers are registered to local companies established in 2019, with only a PO Box as their address.

“Respectfully, we ask how it is possible that a newly established fishing company in Ghana can suddenly acquire one or two trawlers of this size with the costs involved? Is the Fisheries Commission able to confirm that it has investigated the beneficial ownership of these companies to ensure that only Ghanaian citizens will be controlling and profiting from the operations?” the letter said.

Ghana has a severe issue with a type of illegal fishing known as “Saiko”. Small pelagic fish, known as the “people’s fish”, are subject to targeted illegal fishing by trawlers. They are then transferred at sea to specially adapted boats and sold back to local communities at a profit.

The EJF cited a similar situation in Senegal, where the country has rejected licensing requests for 52 new industrial fishing vessels, after Senegalese small-scale fishers and industrial shipowners raised the alarm.

Executive Director of the EJF Steve Trent said: “Senegal made the right choice in declining these licences and thereby protecting its fisheries and the livelihoods and food security of its coastal communities. In Ghana, illegal and unsustainable fishing is already driving fish stocks to the brink of collapse.

Approving new licenses now—when by the government’s own admission, the fleet is already over-capacity—would be a catastrophic, unjustifiable mistake. I firmly hope that the Ghanaian government follows the good example set by Senegal and declines these requests.”

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