Cape Town - Shark fins have been discovered on two Chinese fishing vessels during a joint surveillance exercise conducted by Greenpeace and the Guinean fisheries authorities, Greenpeace said on Sunday. One of the vessels also had illegally altered fishing nets on board, while a third Chinese vessel was caught using illegal nets and fishing for species outside of its licence conditions, the environmental protection organisation said.
The two vessels with shark fins on board had been fined 250 000 euros (R3.64 million) each, while the third vessel had been fined 350 000 euros. The vessels' catches had been seized by Guinean authorities.
Apart from the shark fins, Greenpeace also found numerous carcasses of sharks including hammerheads, an endangered species, and manta rays on board several vessels.
“What we’re seeing here is an utter lack of respect for west African fishing laws. It also shows that local laws need to be strengthened to meet international standards where endangered sharks are no longer a legal catch.
"That is why we are recommending that coastal states improve their monitoring capacity and local legislation to protect marine life and the livelihoods of local fishing communities,” said Greenpeace Africa oceans campaigner Ahmed Diame.
Greenpeace and local officials inspected and boarded 12 vessels this past week.
These were nine Chinese vessels, one Korean vessel and two Guinean-flagged vessels.
In one of the Chinese vessels, a letter was found issued by China’s distant water fishing association on March 10 and reminding Chinese fishing vessels to fish legally and to be co-operative with authorities’ inspections, Greenpeace said.“We thought the letter would have deterred Chinese fishing vessels from illegal activities during the period of the joint patrols, but apparently this was not the case,” said the campaign leader on board the Greenpeace vessel, Esperanza Pavel Klinckhamers.
“Several fishing vessels belonging to Chinese companies continued their illegal fishing practices despite the warning.”
There were 41 demersal and pelagic vessels that were licensed to operate in Guinean waters.
Eighty five percent were Chinese-owned.
“Greenpeace is demanding that west African governments take responsibility and work together to manage both foreign and local fishing activities in their waters so resources can be distributed fairly and sustainably, and a prosperous future for people living along the shores of west Africa can be safeguarded,” Greenpeace said.
The fishing vessels that were fined were the Lian Run 34, which was found with shark fins on board on March31.
Aerial photos showed shark fins on the roof of the Lian Run 47. Inspections on April4 uncovered shark fins hidden between crates on the ship, as well as non-authorised net adjustments.
Both ships were owned by Dalian Lian Run Pelagic Fishery Company, one of China’s largest distant-water fishing companies.
Guinean authorities confiscated both ships’ fishing licences, the captains’ passports, and other navigation documents.
The Fu Yuan Yu 379 was inspected on April 2. Inspectors found it had illegally adjusted nets.
Inspectors also uncovered 30 bags of shark carcasses, including a huge hammerhead shark.
On April 3, the Fu Yuan Yu 379 was spotted again fishing outside the area of its licence and having discarded the bags of sharks that were considered evidence.
The vessel would probably face further sanction. It is owned by Fujian Pingtan Hengli Fishery Company.
The vessel was fined for illegal net adjustments, categorised as “very serious” infractions of Guinean law.
Current legislation did not penalise for sharks being caught as a bycatch, Greenpeace said.
The Esperanza is on an expedition in west Africa to document the threat from overfishing to the marine environment and food security for millions of Africans depending on fish.
The crew, with the support of fishing authorities from coastal countries in west Africa, aim to reduce the number of vessels fishing illegally and committing various offences.