Around 90% of Ghana’s industrial fishing fleet is linked to Chinese ownership, an investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has claimed.
This is despite the fact that Ghana’s laws clearly forbid any foreign ownership or control of vessels flying its flag.
"The Chinese and Ghanaian governments must now work together to eradicate the illegal fishing practices which are rife in Ghana’s industrial fleet, improve transparency and sanction those contravening ownership laws," EJF said.
To ensure that the financial benefits from industrial fisheries go directly to Ghana, rather than being sent overseas, Ghana’s Fisheries Act states these craft cannot be owned, or part owned, by any foreign interest, with the sole exception of tuna vessels.
However, EJF claims that foreign companies – overwhelmingly Chinese – operate through Ghanaian ‘front’ companies, using opaque corporate structures to import their vessels and register and obtain a license. In 2015, 90% of industrial trawl vessels licensed in Ghana were built in China, and 95% were captained by Chinese nationals, it said.
"With the balance of control invariably resting with the Chinese investor, such arrangements clearly contravene the purpose of the legislation, if not the letter of the law. The result is a complete lack of transparency as to who is responsible for illegal actions, and who controls and benefits from Ghana’s industrial trawl fleet," wrote EJF.
New vessels have continued to arrive from China, despite a moratorium on new industrial trawlers entering Ghanaian waters to address vast over-capacity and severe depletion of fish stocks.
Earlier this year, China launched a crackdown on illicit activities of Chinese operators in West Africa, withdrawing subsidies and fishing licenses from three Chinese companies involved in illegal fishing in the region. Now, said EJF, it can consolidate this progress in Ghana and thereby demonstrate leadership in combatting illegal fishing.
Together, EJF wants the two governments to swiftly identify Chinese ownership in Ghana’s industrial fleet, and ensure any arrangements comply with all fisheries, company and tax laws. To tackle illegal fishing, both governments must thoroughly investigate suspected cases, and impose sanctions tough enough to truly deter offenders, it said.
"Crucially, both China and Ghana can secure wide-ranging economic and environmental benefits by making an active commitment to transparency. To do this, lists of all fishing vessels licensed to fish under Ghanaian and Chinese flags should be published online, along with details of all cases of illegal fishing and the sanctions imposed. The ownership of all industrial vessels operating in Ghana, and who actually profits from them, should be public knowledge."
“China is already aware of some problems across its fleet in West Africa, and the government has taken some steps to resolve these abuses,” said EJF’s executive director, Steve Trent. “With this new information about the Ghanaian fisheries, China can, and should, adopt a leadership role, working with the Ghanaian government to ensure that laws are upheld, and that Ghanaian fisheries are both legal and sustainable. Failure to take such action will see the further declines and the possible collapse of these fisheries, leading to great suffering across coastal communities.”
EJF is calling upon both governments to pay particular attention and collaborate to end the damaging practice of "saiko" fishing, where industrial trawlers target fish such as the small pelagic species that are a vital staple food for local communities. The catch is then illegally transferred at sea to specially adapted canoes – and having effectively ‘stolen’ these fish from traditional canoe fishers – operators sell them back to the same fishing communities for profit, said EJF.
The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Madam Elizabeth Afoley Quaye, has asked stakeholders to protect the fishing industry as part of measures of safeguarding food security in Ghana.
“Let’s all come together and see the fishing industry as ours; let us own it, for when we lose it, we wouldn’t have it anymore… as stakeholders, we should be interested in knowing what happens to our fishing industry in Ghana. It’s a natural resource that we have to protect,” she said.
She made this call on Thursday during the swearing in ceremony of the newly-elected executives of the National Fish Stevedores Association (NAFSA) and the inauguration of the Ports and Harbours Private Security Association (PHAPSA) at the Tema Fishing Harbour.
Madam Quaye observed that fish remained the cheapest and the preferred protein source with about 75 percent of total annual production consumed in Ghana, and that the average per capita fish consumption is set around 25 kilogrammes which was higher than the world average of 23 kilogrammes.
She informed that though fish was a very precious commodity, it was highly perishable.
“There is the need to maintain it as a good quality raw material. We need to properly handle and preserve the fish especially during its capture, landing and transporting to the processing plant or the market, “she said.
She called on all stake holders to support any call for close season that was geared towards preserving fishes for the future, adding that, “It’s not to make anybody uncomfortable or take food from the table, but we want to save our fisheries and the natural resource that God has given to us.”
Appreciating the need of the two associations, she said, “I have seen footages of how fishes are handled at sea and my heart bleeds, and people like you would be the ones to save the situation. When fishers go out to fish and they do all the wrong things we would lose our fishes.”
She said, the quality of fish should not deteriorate at the time of consumption.
“We are consuming a lot of stale fish; that were not handled properly at the time of harvest and the time of transporting. We transport our fishes in vehicles that are not right; we have to transport them in insulated vans to protect our fishes.”
According to her, these contaminated fishes could account for most sicknesses that affected the population.
The Deputy Minister of Transport, Mr. Daniel Titus Glove bemoaned the bad odour that had come to characterize the fishing harbour due to the poor handling of fish and therefore called for a clean up.
The General Manager, Tema Fishing Harbour, Mr. Kumi Adjei-Sam, in responding to the state of the Tema Fishing Harbour, said, “We have started a process to modernize and develop the canoe basin. It was a traditional landing base so a lot of the structures there were put up haphazardly, and we want to change that. Our vision is to be a modern fishing landing harbour with good sanitation and well defined facilities.”
He also informed of the need to have a strong fishing community by strengthening the various associations that fell under the Harbour which included the NASFA and PHAPSA.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is unhappy that Africa is not on the world’s shipowners’ list.
To NIMASA,it is not good that no carrier from the continent is on the list.
As a way out, the agency plans to develop a ship tonnage growth strategy and promote best practices to attract vessels in the nation’s ship registry.
In a message to the Association of African Maritime Administrations (AAMA) Conference at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, NIMASA Director-General Dr Dakuku Peterside said African governments and maritime administrators must develop ship tonnage strategy and practices to attract more vessels in African Ship Registry (ASR) to boost their economies.
NIMASA, he said, was considering an approach that would address low tonnage and Nigeria’s inability to compete in global maritime trade.
NIMASA’s Director for Special Duties Hajia Lami Tumaka, led Nigeria’s delegation to the confrence.
In AAMA Chairman’s report, covering 2017 and 2018, exclusively obtained by The Nation, the Executive Council resolved that Maritime Administrations (MARADS) should:
consider training and capacity building in Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) of fisheries activities;
collaborate with relevant institutions to build capacity in Monitoring, Control and Surveillance of fisheries management and fishing activities in African waters;
enhance Africa’s Maritime surveillance for the benefit of ship management safety and security;
strengthen collaboration with Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAQ) on enforcement of Port State Control guidelines on shipping activities; and
development of Near Coastal Trading Certification and Competency Code to foster Economic cooperation between Maritime Administrations.
The Executive Council also considered the concept note presented by the Abuja MOU, which stated the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-Keeping for Seafarers (STCW) I978, set minimum standards for training, certification and watch-keeping for seafarers that member states are obliged to meet, or exceed.
It also considered the work undertaken by the secretariat in developing Near Coastal Trading Certification and Competency Code to be adopted to foster economic cooperation among maritime administrations.
The General Assembly is expected to consider other areas of interest designed to address enhancement of maritime pollution prevention and control to ensure protection of marine environment.
The Executive Council noted with concern the role of MARADS in enhancing maritime pollution prevention and control, to ensure protection of maritime infrastructure. It urged maritime administrations to ratify and domesticate relevant IMO instruments on marine pollution, prevention and control which, if fully implemented, would help achieve the drive towards a sustainable use of the African ocean and seas.
At the shore of the Elmina beach is an $11 million fish processing plant which was intended to bring lasting relief to the fishing communities in the area.
Fisher folks believed, during the setting up of the plant, that the processing plant would improve their income levels by reducing post-harvest losses.
But the hope of these fisherfolks is fast eroding as government fails to get the factory to work almost two years after its completion.
The plant has facilities for descaling, gutting, filleting, packaging of fish, cold storage with capacity of 100 metric tons, and a waste processing component for producing animal feed.
But it has been reduced to an iced block factory almost two years after its completion.
The processing plant was handed over to a private Ghanaian company, Raphel Spectrum Company Limited, to manage on behalf of the state but it is yet to be operationalised for its intended purpose.
A fishmonger Pakwesi Fynn says the government is failing the coastal dwellers at Elmina.
Auntie Mary, a fish seller said one of the major challenges in the sale of fish is the inadequate storage facilities.
Mary goes to the landing beach at Elmina and buys the fresh fish from the fishermen. Sometimes when she is not able to sell all that she buys from the men, a lot of the fish gets wasted.
Kobina Mensah a fisherman, is worried about the current state of the plant. The huge investment with a potential to employ hundreds of people in this fishing community rotting away each day as it sits at the edge of the beach.
As the fish stock continue to decline globally, the impact will be felt here in Elmina also and the need to preserve some of the fish caught every season becomes even more significant.
That is why government must quickly turn this facility from being an ‘ice block factory’ to what it was originally built for;Fish processing.
Fishermen and fish mongers at the Albert Bosomtwi Fishing harbour in Sekondi are losing out on the bumper season as there is no ready market or enough cold storage facilities.
The situation has compelled them to dispose some of their catch back into the sea as the season is being characterized by poor sales.
During this period of the year, salmon, herrings and other related species of fish are harvested in larger quantities and this calls for pragmatic steps to stock the unused harvest so as to deal with post harvest losses in the sector.
Nii Ayitey Botwey, the Secretary of the Ghana Inshore Fisheries Association in Sekondi, who confirmed the situation, said the price fall and the throwing of catches back into the sea could be tackled with appropriate measures by institutions concerned to create sustainable job for the players in the industry.
'When there is more catch prices go down, when there's scarcity prices shoot up', he said.
A visit to the beach revealed that a bucket or basin of fish which sold between 350 and 400 cedis was now being sold for GH40 to GH50 at the harbour.
Madam Faustina Ayi, Queen mother for the fishmongers Association at the harbour, said the situation was even worse on Tuesdays since many people assumed that fishermen would not bring fishes or go to sea as it was a sacred day for the fishing industry.
'On Tuesdays, the fishermen do not get buyers for their catch. They have to throw a lot of the fish back into the ocean because they cannot process them', she said.
Madam Ayi said the situation has become an annual affair, which needs to be addressed.
Some fishermen and fishmongers described the situation as an unfortunate, particularly in times when the country is battling with a dwindling fish stock and food security.
Mr Patrick Tawiah, Technical officer of the Fisheries Commission, said many of the fishes caught in the day under question are 'juvenile fishes which did not attract market'.
He said landing on Monday and Tuesday with these juvenile fishes also meant that the fishermen flouted sea regulations of not fishing on Tuesdays and that accounted for the throwing of some of the fishes back into the sea.
Mr Tawiah said fish processors usually did not like to work on the pelagic which they claim could go bad easily and did not ensure value for money.