EJF deplores errant Chinese

Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956, a Chinese-owned fishing trawler, has been re-licensed to fish in Ghana, despite being caught for illegal fishing twice and failing to pay its fine of $1 million, the Environmental Justice Foundation ((EJF) has said.

An EJF release copied to the Ghanaian Times said in June 2019, the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956 was arrested in Ghanaian waters for illegal nets and undersized (small) pelagic fish on board it – the staple catch of artisanal fishers.

It said a fine of $1 million was imposed, but the vessel owners failed to pay it and, in May 2020, the vessel was caught again for similar offences.

“Meanwhile, despite this clear record of illegality, the vessel has now been licensed to fish in the country while it awaits a further hearing,” the release said.

Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956, operated by the Chinese company Rongcheng Ocean Fishery Co Ltd, was authorised to catch bottom-dwelling species, but caught significant quantities of small pelagic species, such as the severely depleted sardinellas, which were found on board it, the EJF said in its release.

It further said over the years, the fisheries community and experts had raised red flags against  the use of illegal nets often associated with the damaging practice of saiko, as trawlers use the nets to illegally target the main catch of artisanal fishers – small pelagic fish, also known as the “people’s fish.”

It added that the people’s fish were caught and transferred at sea to specially adapted boats which sold “this stolen” fish back to local communities at a profit.

“The 2002 Fisheries Act states that the Fisheries Commission should not recommend the renewal of a fishing licence where there is a failure to satisfy a judgment or determination for illegal fishing,” the EJF release complained.

It explained that under international laws, Ghana had a responsibility to establish a system of deterrent sanctions that should deprive offenders of the benefits gained from illegal fishing.

“Ghana’s system of fisheries sanctions was upgraded in 2014 through adoption of new legislation following a warning from the European Commission for failure to meet these international obligations. Yet, this case highlights that the system is still not working: the vessel simply refused to comply with the sanction it was given, and was caught again for the same illegal fishing offences. Clearly the owners were undeterred,” EJF added.

The fisheries advocacy group described the current trend as “a worrying threat to livelihoods in coastal communities at a time when local fishers should be recording bumper catches” but, return from sea with empty nets as fish populations collapse.

Deploring the situation further, the group said “meanwhile repeat offenders, such as the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956, are still out at sea”.

“It is vital that all parties remember that this Chinese trawler was fishing illegally in Ghana’s waters, stealing from its people and damaging its environment. These are serious crimes that are causing long-term damage to Ghana, its economy and its people,” the Executive Director of the EJF, Steve Trent, told the Ghanaian Times.

 He explained that when this case was heard by an out-of-court settlement committee, it was vital that the fines imposed met at least the statutory minimum with the outcome registered formally with the court.

 He stressed: “This can be fully enforced, and published on the Ministry’s website for full transparency. It is crucial that all cases of illegal fishing in Ghana are treated rigorously, so that perpetrators are prevented from committing these crimes again.”

According to Trent, the Lu Rong Yuang Yu case raised concerns as to the efficacy of Ghana’s system of out-of-court settlement to deal with the perpetrators of illegal fishing, noting in most cases, vessel operators opted for out-of-court settlement, but “while fines imposed should be no less than the statutory minimum, in practice, fines are often lower than that, and in some cases go unpaid.”

 To Trent, “There is a lack of transparency around individual cases which leaves the process vulnerable to external interference and potential abuse.”


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