The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has accused a Chinese vessel of repeatedly practising illegal fishing on Ghana’s coast after the vessel was arrested for the second time for the same offence.
The fisheries watchdog said the trawler, Lu Rong Yuan Yu 959, was apprehended last month for taking on board a catch that was 90 percent made up of juvenile fish below the minimum landing size.
According to EJF, this is the vessel’s second known arrest, and records indicate that it is owned by the same company which had its other vessel arrested twice for almost identical violations.
The pressure group has therefore urged Ghanaian authorities to undertake a thorough, transparent investigation and urgently reconsider the role of foreign ownership of vessels in a trade that is reserved for locals.
The EFJ said Lu Rong Yuan Yu 959 was apprehended in September this year by Ghana’s navy and Marine Police for possession of undersized fish which made up 90 percent of a single haul.
“This was not its first arrest. In April 2015 the vessel was arrested for the same offence of taking aboard undersized fish and fined GH¢200,000 (around US$50,000),” EJF said.
Industrial trawlers harvesting significant quantities of juvenile fish are a serious concern in Ghana’s fisheries sector. Catching these fish, which are often sold to local fishing communities as part of the destructive and illegal saiko trade, devastates fish populations that are already severely depleted.
EJF said the vessel owner, Rongcheng Ocean Fishery Company, is also listed as the owner of the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956, which was arrested in June 2019 for catching undersized fish and use of illegal nets and was fined US$1m in October 2019.
The vessel failed to pay the fine and was relicensed to fish before being arrested again in May 2020 for almost identical offences. The vessel was then relicensed yet again while awaiting hearing on the two cases, the watchdog said.
An estimated 90 percent of trawlers fishing in Ghana are owned by Chinese corporations that use Ghanaian front companies to gain registration, EJF alleged.
It said opaque ownership arrangements are not only illegal but also have allowed the owners of vessels to escape scrutiny for illegal practices which are rife in Ghana’s trawl industry.
A minimum fine of US$1m is due when a fishing vessel is found to have taken on board undersized fish, according to Ghana’s 2002 Fisheries Act (Act 625), as amended by the 2014 Fisheries (Amendment) Act (Act 880). The fine increases to US$2-4m for a second contravention, along with suspension of the vessel’s fishing licence for six months from the date of conviction.
Therefore, according to Ghanaian law, the Rongcheng Ocean Fishery Company should be fined at least US$4m for the two most recent offences, if convicted, and both vessels should have their licences suspended, EJF said.
The twice-arrested Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956 is one of the vessels owned by Rongcheng Ocean Fishery Company.