A Chinese-owned fishing trawler has been re-licensed to fish in Ghana, despite being caught for illegal fishing twice and failing to pay a US$1m fine, watchdog Environmental Justice Foundation has alleged.
In June 2019, the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956, which is operated by the Chinese company Rongcheng Ocean Fishery Co. Ltd., was apprehended in Ghanaian waters with illegal nets and undersized small pelagic fish – the staple catch of artisanal fishers – on board.
The full fine of US$1m was issued, but the vessel owners failed to pay, the EJF said, adding that in May 2020 the vessel was caught again for almost identical offences.
“Despite this clear track record of illegality, the vessel has now been licensed to fish while it awaits a further hearing,” said EJF in a statement.
The watchdog said the use of illegal nets is often associated with the damaging practice of “saiko”, as trawlers use them to illegally target the main catch of artisanal fishers – small pelagic fish, also known as the “people’s fish”.
“Once caught, they transfer the catch at sea to specially adapted boats and sell this stolen fish back to local communities at a profit,” EJF said.
“This represents a worrying threat to livelihoods in coastal communities. At a time when local fishers should be recording bumper catches, they report returning to the sea with empty nets as fish populations collapse,” it added.
The EJF said re-licensing of the vessel may also be inconsistent with legal requirements.
It explained: “The 2002 Fisheries Act states that the Fisheries Commission should not recommend the renewal of a fishing licence where there is a failure to satisfy a judgment or determination for illegal fishing. It seems that the fines issued to the vessel in 2019 are determinations that have not been satisfied.”
Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, said “it is crucial that all cases of illegal fishing in Ghana are treated rigorously so that perpetrators are prevented from committing these crimes again.”