BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A new Sino-West African joint venture with links to one of China's largest seafood companies is catching more than 100 metric tons of fish per day off the West African coast, just over a year after it was established. This is according to a source close to Sunrise Oceanic Resources Exploitation Company (Sorec), the joint venture established between Guangxi Crown Fisheries and a local company in the West African country of Mauritania.
Linked to Guangxi Crown is Baiyang Investment Group, China's largest tilapia exporter and third-largest market-listed Chinese seafood company.
The funds were being invested in 20 new, 40-meter-long fishing vessels and a fishmeal plant located in the free trade area of Nouadhibou, a port town in the country, with 50,000t of annual production capacity, sources said.
In October of last year, Nani Ould Chrouga, Mauritania’s minister of fisheries, said the country wanted to attract foreign investment to the country to stimulate the local economy, and would provide special incentives for them to do so.
Last week, Sorec was displaying fish caught in the region at the Global Seafood Expo in Brussels. The fish were all pelagic species and displayed at the stand of Baiyang. Photos of Sorec 's new vessels in marketing material were also displayed at Baiyang's stand.
The Sino-Mauritania joint venture's progress comes as Charles Sun, assistant president of Baiyang, clarifies to Undercurrent the relationship between Sorec and his firm.
It also comes on the heels of Baiyang's acquisition in mid-April of Chinese CGI and education company Mars Era Institute of Digital Arts (北京火星时代科技有限公司) for CNY 974m ($141.2m) -- roughly the same amount as the Mauritania investment.
Back in November Undercurrent proposed Sorec was linked to Baiyang, given the evidence at the time, but this was denied by the two firms.
Rather, the actual relationship involves a network of discrete, family-owned companies, as well as supply arrangements with Baiyang subsidiaries, according to Undercurrent's research. Consequently, the West African business is kept off market-listed Baiyang's public accounts, and, therefore, is less exposed to scrutiny.
According to Charles Sun, the Chinese arm of Sorec -- Guangxi Crown Fisheries -- was established by a company owned by his father Sun Zhongyi, the boss and largest shareholder of Baiyang.
This company, Guangxi Xianghe Ocean Fishing (广西祥和顺远洋捕捞有限公司), was established in late 2015 with a registered capital of CNY 35.3m ($5.12m), according to a Baiyang company filing at the Shenzhen stock exchange published last December. It is jointly owned by Sun Zhongyi, his son Charles, and wife Cai Jing, as well as Rongcheng Risheng Aquatic Products (荣成市日晟水产有限公司), a processing company based in Rongcheng, east China.
Guangxi Xianghe has a supply agreement with Baiyang to provide "marine fish products", according to the filing. Baiyang will process, store and sell the fish through its own subsidiary Beihai Qin Frozen Foods (北海钦国冷冻食品有限公司). Last year, Beihai Qin, also based in Guangxi Province, south China, reported revenues of CNY 104.9m, according to Baiyang's annual report.
Baiyang also has two subsidiaries producing fishmeal and fish oil in Rongcheng. Meanwhile, Risheng Aquatic has other partnerships with Baiyang, through its parent company Rongcheng Rixin Aquatic Products (荣成市日鑫水产有限公司).
Risheng Aquatic is US FDA-registered, sells products including pre-prepared meals and land- and ship-frozen seafood, and has assets totaling CNY 380m, including a fleet of 48 vessels (30 offshore, 18 in-shore). Photos of the vessels on its website are the same as the Mauritania vessels. The company states it is "fulfilling China's 'One Belt, One Road' strategy, through investments in distant water fishing, near shore fishing and foreign investment, including in Africa."
Push into ocean fisheries
The Sorec project follows the blueprint of big-ticket Chinese investments in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America. These typically see Chinese companies provide lines of credit or infrastructure in exchange for rights to exploit natural resources, with operations often conducted through joint ventures with local firms.
But this has put Chinese in the sights of NGOs and media. In a New York Times article published last week, it was claimed China's distant water fishing vessels are pushing West African fisheries "to the brink" to feed its own rising demand.
At the Brussels show, one source close to the firm said the Mauritania fishing operation would become the "main focus of the business".