The Environmental Justice Foundation, a United Kingdom-based non-governmental organization focused on protecting the environment and defending human rights, has published two reports following up on illegal fishing practices amongst the distant-water fleets of Taiwan and China.
In a report filed on 11 October, EJF claims that around 90 percent of the industrial fishing fleet in the West African country of Ghana is linked to Chinese ownership, despite the fact that Ghanaian law prohibits foreign ownership or control of domestically-flagged vessels.
“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,” EJF said in a statement.
EJF also found that new fishing vessels from China have continued to arrive in Ghana’s waters despite a moratorium on such additions, introduced to address overfishing and depletion of local fish stocks. And in a previous investigation, EJF revealed that Chinese-operated industrial trawlers have been taking advantage of a practice known as “saiko” to circumvent Ghana’s laws on fishing. Saiko involves the trawlers illegally transferring frozen stocks of bycatch from industrial trawlers to small canoes for sale on shore. The practice resulted in the illegal sale of more than 100,000 metric tons (MT) of fish worth USD 34 to 65 million (EUR 29 to 56 million) in 2017.
“China is already aware of some problems across its fleet in West Africa, and the government has taken some steps to resolve these abuses,” EJF Executive Director Steve Trent said. “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.”
Trent said the EJF is calling for the publication of lists of all fishing vessels licensed to fish in Ghana under Ghanaian and Chinese lags, as well as details of any cases of illegal fishing that took place in Ghanaian waters and the sanctions imposed as a result of any prosecution.
“The ownership of all industrial vessels operating in Ghana, and who actually profits from them, should be public knowledge,” Trent said.
In an update to a separate report, the EJF is calling for more action from the Taiwanese government to combat human rights abuses and illegal fishing in that country’s distant-water fishing fleet. In August 2018, the EJF released an investigative film, "Exploitation and Lawlessness: The Dark Side of Taiwan’s Fishing Fleet," that detailed poor labor standards, dire working conditions, and harmful fishing techniques in the fleet. The report centered on the Taiwanese fishing vessel Fuh Sheng No. 11, which in May 2018 became the first vessel in the world to be detained for violating the ILO Work in Fishing Convention No. 188, which sets international standards of decent work in the fishing industry.
In September, Taiwanese officials completed their investigation “and confirmed the gross human rights violations aboard the Fuh Sheng No. 11,” according to the EJF. The investigation found the vessel’s crew was subject to beatings, illegal termination of contracts, and received wages below the Taiwanese minimum.
EJF Deputy Director Max Schmid called for Taiwan to mandate electronic monitoring on-board all of its fishing vessels, and to bring its national laws in line with the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention C188, “which is designed to prevent exactly these types of situations from occurring.”
“It is encouraging that action is now being taken on human rights abuses onboard the vessel, but the handling of this case over the past four months underlines the urgent need for major reforms,” Schmid said. “Taiwan should immediately implement fit-for-purpose, standardized procedures and ensure they are robustly implemented.”
Schmid also expressed disappointment that Taiwanese authorities will not be sanctioning the company or captain for illegal shark finning, despite significant accumulated evidence that such activity occurred, including admissions from the ship’s crew, photographic evidence, and an acknowledgement by the vessel’s owner.
“EJF was disappointed to learn that authorities have decided not to prosecute the vessel for shark finning despite this wealth of evidence,” Schmid said.
The NGO is calling for Taiwan’s authorities to pursue maximum penalties for the crimes documented on the Fuh Sheng No. 11 to serve as a deterrent to others and for compensation to be paid to victims.
“It is very disappointing that despite witness evidence provided by crew, corroborated by film and photographs, and a public admission of guilt by the vessel owner, the Fisheries Agency is not prosecuting the vessel for finning sharks, including endangered species,” Schmid said. “Finning is an incredibly destructive form of illegal fishing, with fins commanding huge prices when they are smuggled off vessels. The failure to prosecute such a flagrant case sends entirely the wrong message and raises serious questions about the commitment to combat illegal fishing.”
Photo courtesy of Environmental Justice Foundation