Source: The Maritime Executive
A trawler has been apprehended in Ghanaian waters having caught at least 13.9 tonnes of small pelagic fish in a single day, using illegal nets.
The small-mesh nets found on board – which are illegal for an industrial trawler – indicate that the vessel was specifically targeting small pelagics. Analysis of the catch also showed that a significant proportion were undersized juveniles.
The small pelagic fish populations, known as the “people’s fish,” 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. The UN FAO found earlier this year that stocks of sardinella shared between Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Benin are near collapse, and recommended the complete closure of the sardinella fishery to allow populations to recover.
A major driver of the fisheries’ decline is the “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.
The use of the full $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). 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.
The Marine Police brought charges against the Chinese Captain, Chief Engineer and Second officer, and two Ghanaian crew members. Around 90 percent 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 organizations operate through Ghanaian front companies, using opaque corporate structures to import their vessels and register and obtain a license.
Appearing before an out-of-court settlement committee, the owner of the vessel agreed to pay a fine of $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.
In 2017, the owners of a Ghanaian-flagged industrial trawler refused to pay a fine imposed by an out of court settlement committee in a case of illegal trans-shipment. The vessel has since paid an undisclosed sum and been re-licensed to continue fishing.
EJF’s Executive Director Steve Trent said: “Over two 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.”
In 2017 industrial trawlers caught almost the same amount of fish as the entire artisanal sector, when illegal and unreported catches are taken into account. That is 76 trawlers catching approximately the same amount of fish as over 12,000 canoes or 100,000 fishers. Saiko catches in 2017 were worth $40.6 – 50.7 million when sold at sea, and $52.7 – 81.1 million when sold at the landing site. While canoe fishing offers direct employment for around 60 fishers for every 100 tonnes of fish, saiko means only 1.5 jobs per 100 tonnes – 40 times fewer.