Three new Chinese owned trawlers have docked at Tema Port, registered under the Ghanaian flag awaiting licensing by the Fisheries Commission to operate on the Ghanaian waters, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working to protect the environment, has revealed.
This, it said was against the 2012 moratorium on new industrial trawlers entering Ghanaian waters, which was enacted as a measure to check severe depletion of fish stocks.
According to the EJF, 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.
It said the Fisheries Management Plan of Ghana which was under review states that 48 trawlers were the most that the Ghanaian waters could sustain, yet 76 trawlers were licensed at the end of 2019.
The EJF in a statement copied to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in Cape Coast, explained that the Fisheries Amendment Regulation (LI 2217) of 2015 provided guidelines for registering new vessels.
“According to Section 24 (A) of the 2015 Fisheries Amendment Regulations, (LI 2217), applications to register a fishing vessel as a Ghanaian fishing vessel must be submitted to the Fisheries Commission”.
“The application must include information such as the names, addresses and details of the beneficial owners and operators of the vessel (Section 24A(2)(e)). The Commission is required to verify the information provided (Section 24C) and, where satisfied that the vessel fulfils the requirements of the Regulations, shall recommend to the Ghana Maritime Authority that the vessel be registered as a Ghanaian fishing vessel (Section 24D),” it stated.
It said to protect Ghana’s food security and local livelihoods especially in these worrying times of COVID-19, the government must ensure that the industrial fleet was of a sustainable size.
In a related development, the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council (GNCFC) in an open letter to the Fisheries Commission, strongly opposed the decision to grant these vessels licenses to fish in Ghana’s waters.
According to them, not only was there a government moratorium on fishing licenses for new or replacement trawl vessels, but overfishing and the destructive illegal practices of many trawlers were having a devastating impact on fish population in Ghana and livelihoods of coastal communities.
“The country is already confronted with major challenges in controlling the existing licensed vessels in Ghana. We continue to see large quantities of fish landed by Saiko canoes at Elmina fishing harbour, even after government and industry committed to ending the practice last November,” the GNCFC said in its letter.
The EJF in 2018 revealed that foreign companies, overwhelmingly Chinese, operate through Ghanaian ‘front’ companies, using opaque corporate structures to import their vessels and register and obtain a license.
Mr Steve Trent, Executive Director, EJF, said: “Ensuring that all fishing is legal, ethical and sustainable has never been more important as the world reels from the impacts of Covid-19, communities will need these resources more than ever”.
“The Fisheries Commission has the chance to do the right thing: heed scientific advice, refuse these trawlers a license and protect Ghana’s fisheries and its people,” he added.
In 2017, industrial trawlers caught almost the same amount of fish as the entire artisanal sector, when illegal and unreported catches were taken into account. That is 76 trawlers catching approximately the same amount of fish as over 11,000 canoes or 100,000 fishers, research had revealed.