Chinese fishing firm faces questions over Madagascar access deal

A large trawling net being pulled on board a boat.

A fleet of Chinese vessels that was previously caught fishing illegally in West Africa has been approved for trawling by authorities in Madagascar.

The Environmental Justice Foundation recently published the results of an investigation that found Mada Fisheries, registered in Madagascar in 2021 under Chinese ownership, received licensing for eight trawlers to fish in Malagasy waters through 2025, despite the fact three of them were arrested by Gambian authorities in 2020 for illegally fishing in a zone reserved for artisanal fisheries. Malagasy law bars any vessels guilty of previous illegal, unreported, unregulated incidents from operating in the country’s waters.

The investigation also found the firm potentially forged Chinese Agriculture Ministry paperwork required by Madagascar for licensure of Chinese distant-water firms. And Shandong Rongcheng Dafa Fisheries Co Ltd, which is listed as the owner of the vessels, does not appear in records kept by Chinese authorities of its licensed fishery firms.

“Madagascar’s government should adhere to its well-designed fisheries code and investigate and suspend the licenses of all Mada Fisheries vessels linked to illegal fishing,” EJF CEO Steve Trent said. “It is vital that [Madagascar’s] Fisheries Ministry acts now, before the trawl season begins, to protect the livelihoods and food security of local coastal communities who have been badly hit by the recent cyclones.”

In 2018, more than 18,000 Malagasy citizens signed a petition calling on the government to cancel a fishery access deal signed with Chinese firm Taihe Century Investment Development Co., which allowed it access to its exclusive economic zone for 330 of its fishing trawlers for a decade. Campaigners argued the access deal wasn’t transparent or signed according to local law. The multibillion dollar deal appears not to have progressed, however.

China’s Agriculture Ministry licenses and inspects all vessels operating abroad. Chinese officials and diplomats are also frequently involved in negotiating fishery access deals with or for fishing firms from China. Madagascar was one of a number of African countries invited late last year to participate in the Hunan-Macao Portuguese Speaking African Countries Fishery Service Alliance.

In October 2021, Madagascar joined the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI), which has the mission of improving the sustainability of global fisheries by increasing transparency in government management of stocks.

“Transparency measures – such as making illegal histories publicly available and publishing clear ownership details – matched by strict enforcement of fisheries laws, are urgently needed around the world,” Trent said.

Photo courtesy of Environmental Justice Foundation


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