The waters of Ghana have become susceptible to encroachment and abuse by trawlers who use illegal means to exploit the country’s fish resources. The few who have been apprehended, charged to court, found guilty and fined are refusing to pay the fines.
An NGO, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) is therefore urging the Fisheries Commission to pursue all legal means to get the offending trawlers to pay the fines.
In a press statement copied to ghanabusinessnews.com, the EJF recalls that in Jume 2019, a vessel Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956 was caught with illegal nets and undersized ‘small pelagic’ fish onboard – the staple catch of the artisanal canoe fishers.
“The $1 million fine that was imposed is the statutory minimum under Ghana’s 2014 Fisheries Amendment Act. However, owners have refused to pay the fine,” it says.
“According to the Fisheries Act, failure to pay the fine within 30 days results in the matter reverting to the court. It is now essential that the court uses all legal options available to require payment of the fine and accompanying sanctions to ensure deterrence,” the Executive Director of EJF, Steve Trent says.
The EJF, noted that it praised the Commission for its decision to publicly pursue the full $1 million fine.
“This is worthy of recognition, since even after the Act was passed other perpetrators have paid lower sums, or undisclosed amounts in opaque out-of-court settlements,” the group says.
Citing examples, EJF says in 2017, the owners of a Ghanaian-flagged industrial trawler, Meng Xin 16, refused to pay a fine imposed by an out-of-court settlement committee in a case of illegal trans-shipment. The vessel has since paid an undisclosed sum and been re-licensed to continue fishing. Another vessel, the Meng Xin 29, which was fined for illegal fishing in 2019, has also refused to pay and since been re-licensed to fish.
The EFJ indicates that its 2018 investigation found that around 90 per cent of Ghana’s industrial fishing fleet is linked to Chinese ownership.
“As Ghana’s fisheries laws prohibit foreigners from engaging in joint ventures in the industrial trawl sector, Chinese organisations operate through Ghanaian ‘front’ companies, using opaque corporate structures to import their vessels, register and obtain a licence,” it says, adding that, “these underhand dealings have precluded attempts to ensure the true beneficiaries of illegal activities are held to account.”
The group points out that both the Meng Xin 16 and Meng Xin 29 are linked to a Chinese company a recent investigation by China Dialogue shows.
“In the current case, the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956 is also operated by a Chinese company, Rongcheng Ocean Fishery Co Ltd, according to the website of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs,” it says.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi