Chinese influence in Africa is increasingly taking new, negative dimensions as the fishing industry in Ghana is falling under the tentacles of Chinese over-exploitation. An investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has claimed that around 90% of Ghana's industrial fishing fleet is linked to Chinese ownership.
This is prevailing despite the fact that there is legislation in Ghana which stipulates the issue of the prohibition of foreign ownership of industrial fishing fleets in order to safeguard Ghana's fishing industry so that it benefits the Ghanaians.
The modus operandi for these Chinese companies is operating through "front" Ghanaian companies, making use of opaque corporate structures to import their vessels and register and obtain a license. In 2015, 90% of industrial trawl vessels licensed in Ghana were built in China, and 95% were captained by Chinese nationals, EJF said.
The way some of the deals are shaped include hiring purchase agreements, where the license holder pays part of the acquisition price of the vessel upfront and the remaining amount in installments over a period of time. The majority of the vessels are captained by Chinese officials and the "opaque" nature of these proprietorship arrangements mean that they are able to elude scrutiny from the authorities.
"The Chinese and Ghanaian governments must now work together to eradicate the illegal fishing practices which are rife in Ghana’s industrial fleet, improve transparency and sanction those contravening ownership laws," EJF said.
"With the balance of control invariably resting with the Chinese investor, such arrangements clearly contravene the purpose of the legislation, if not the letter of the law. The result is a complete lack of transparency as to who is responsible for illegal actions, and who controls and benefits from Ghana’s industrial trawl fleet".
Measures were put in place to ensure that the financial benefits of fishing in Ghanaian waters directly go to Ghana. This is evident with the Ghana’s Fisheries Act of 2002, a piece of law which these vessels cannot be owned, or part owned, by any foreign interest, with the sole exception of tuna vessels.
EJF noted that although the officials are bemoaning this over-exploitation at the hands of Chinese companies, fines paid out in settlements remain "significantly less than the minimum" stipulated in the law. Fishing is such a big industry in Ghana and supports the livelihoods of many people; these details revealed by EJF should be taken seriously.
Over two million Ghanaians, many of them artisanal fishers, are dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization. If this remains unchecked, the lives of these people would be subjected to grueling, abject poverty.
EJF wants both the Ghanaian government and the Chinese government to swiftly identify Chinese ownership in Ghana’s industrial fleet, and ensure any arrangements comply with all fisheries, company and tax laws. EJF postulated a solution: to tackle illegal fishing, both governments must thoroughly investigate suspected cases, and impose sanctions tough enough to truly deter offenders.
China has been trying to rein in vessels engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by canceling subsidies and revoking their licenses.EJF noted that China can consolidate this progress in Ghana and thereby demonstrate leadership in combatting illegal fishing.
EJF is calling upon both governments to pay particular attention and collaborate to end the damaging practice of "saiko" fishing, where industrial trawlers target fish such as the small pelagic species that are a vital staple food for local communities. The catch is then illegally transferred at sea to specially adapted canoes – and having effectively ‘stolen’ these fish from traditional canoe fishers – operators sell them back to the same fishing communities for profit, said EJF.
A conflation of poor government collaboration, weak laws, lack of adequate data on fishing boats and trawlers has led to massive losses within the fishing industry, amounting up to $2 billion per year.
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