ghana west africa chinese illegal fishing practices

Stock image of fisherment and fishing vessels in Ghana. Photo: PxHere

Report: China is the biggest threat to food security in Africa

A new report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) detailed how Chinese involvement in industrial trawling is depleting Africa’s fish stocks.

ghana west africa chinese illegal fishing practices

Stock image of fisherment and fishing vessels in Ghana. Photo: PxHere

It harms livelihoods as many West African countries rely on fishing as a means for income and sustenance. The EJF’s investigation revealed that China has an “extensive interest” in Ghana’s fish stock.

Approximately 90% of the vessels licenced in Ghana during 2015, were built in China. They obtain their fishing licences by importing the vessels into the Ghanaian fleet register.

The impact of illegal fishing in West Africa

Not only does China’s involvement harm West Africa’s fish stocks, but also deprive the Ghanan communities of fish they depend on for survival. Oceans campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, Bolei Liu, explains that the illegal vessels pose a threat to transparent oceans governance in West Africa. Liu explains:

“[It] makes it difficult, not just for civil society but also for fisheries officials, to identify illicit fishing operations at sea.”

According to the report, the illicit fishing operations places Ghana’s fish stocks under severe pressure. Due to this, pelagic fishery in the region may collapse within three to seven years.

illegal fishing in west africa ghana chinese
Status of the small pelagic stocks in Ghana and recommendations to achieve sustainable fishing 2017. Scientific and Technical Working Group. Source: Lazar, N., et al. (2018). Credit: USAID/Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP).

In addition, Chinese trawlers also catch juvenile and small pelagic fish in West Africa. The practice, known as ‘Saiko fishing,’ is unsustainable and carries a fine of up to US$2m. Even though the practice is lucrative, it undermines local artisanal fishing practices. Moreover, it leads to a loss of state revenue from tax and fishing licence fees.

How to protect Ghana’s fish stocks

Protecting Ghana and other West African countries’ fish stock would require African governments and Chinese authorities to join forces and identify vessel ownership.

As a result, the responsibility falls onto China to investigate illegal fishing practices in African waters. China may even need to update its national law to deter offenders.

EJF suggests that Ghana and other West African coastal state governments and fishing state governments work in conjunction to “make publicly available inter-governmental fisheries cooperation frameworks.”

According to Liu, this will provide guidance on how Africa’s fish stocks can be protected. Liu added:

“In the meantime, West African states should join forces to harmonise their fisheries management regulations so that no loopholes are left in the region for unscrupulous fishing companies to exploit.”

Watch: The impact of illegal fishing in Ghana

Ghana and other West African countries should tighten the laws around ownership of industrial trawl vessels operating in its waters. Above all, it has to ensure that owners comply with the laws. To maintain transparency, the results must be published publicly.

Exposing the fishing practices in Africa

The world is waking up to the atrocities happening in West African waters. In 2019, British-Afghan reporter Nelufar Hedayat sailed with activists as they investigated the fishing trade in West Africa.

The documentary, titled Zwarte Vis (Black Fish), uncovered the dangerous impact Chinese trawlers have on food security in Africa, and the impact it has on the fishermen in the region.

Moreover, Nelufar was taken aback by how completely Chinese fishermen have taken over the fishing economy in such a short period. Chinese trawlers are able to catch their fish further up sea, leaving Ghanaian fishermen with hardly any fish to catch.

The documentary then highlights how the Chinese trawlers sell the fish to African canoes at sea in the middle of the night. After that, the fish stock will end up in the local markets at inflated prices.

It’s alleged that many of the Chinese boats are fishing without permits or are overfishing their quotas. In conclusion, the lack of enforcement and apathy by officials is a powder keg. If they don’t act soon, the effect on the economy, society and environment will be felt for decades to come.

Watch: Zwarte Vis preview