The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has alleged that seafood caught by vessels fishing illegally in Ghana is entering the European Union (EU) market.
“Industrial trawlers authorised to export to the EU have been linked to illegal foreign ownership and implicated in the use of prohibited nets, fishing in the exclusion zone reserved for small-scale canoe fishers, and the illegal ‘saiko’ trade,” the EJF said in a statement.
The fisheries watchdog said this practice is driving the collapse of crucial fish populations in Ghana and threatening the livelihoods of about 2.7m Ghanaians.
The pressure group said in 2013, the European Commission issued Ghana with a “yellow card”—a formal warning over illegal fishing that can lead to import bans to the EU.
This, the EJF said, was lifted in 2015 as a result of new legislation and a clear fisheries management plan. However, while these policies are well constructed, there are worrying indications that they are not being fully implemented or enforced, it said.
Ghana’s industrial trawl fleet exports between 2,000 and 3,500 tonnes of cuttlefish, octopus and squid to the EU every year, primarily to Portugal, Italy and Spain, worth around €10m.
The EJF said while most exports to the EU are tuna, caught by different vessels, it is the trawl fleet that is cause for alarm.
“Using data from satellite monitoring and at-sea observations, as well as pooling data from other organisations, EJF has been able to show multiple cases in which trawl vessels authorised to export to the EU have been involved in illegal activities. As a market for seafood caught by Ghana’s trawl fleet, EU consumers are inadvertently supporting illegal practices and severe overfishing in Ghana’s waters. This is having devastating impacts on local fishing communities and the 2.7m people in Ghana that rely on marine fisheries for their livelihoods,” it said.
It alleged that products are apparently routed via China and imported to the EU as products of Chinese rather than Ghanaian origin.
“Nine trawlers flying the Ghanaian flag have appeared in China’s list as authorised to export to the EU under EU health legislation when they should have been in Ghana’s list. This could mean that considerably more products from Ghana’s trawl fishery are finding their way to the EU market.”
The group said its findings revealed that two of the trawlers authorised to export to the EU are registered to a small Ghanaian enterprise set up by a Chinese corporation.
This, the watchdog said, also links the illegal actions of the trawl fleet to the tuna vessels, because some trawlers with a history of illegal fishing are ultimately owned by the same Chinese fishing companies that export tuna to the EU and UK.
The EJF called on the EU to use all tools available under its regulation to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to help Ghana bring an end to “saiko” and improve transparency in its fisheries.
“All EU member states, but especially Portugal, Italy and Spain which receive the majority of imports from Ghana’s trawl fleet, as well as major tuna importers, such as France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, should scrutinise seafood imports from Ghana and be alert to possible trade diversions. Importers, processors and retailers must also pay close attention to the situation, and examine all supply chains originating in Ghana, particularly from the trawl fleet.”
Executive Director of EJF Steve Trent said the fact that EU consumers may be inadvertently driving or facilitating this dire situation is distressing news.
“The European Commission can do much to help and encourage Ghana to end this situation once and for all,” he said.