Third West African country this year decries arrival of Chinese trawlers

The arrival of six large Chinese trawlers in Liberia has drawn criticism from local artisanal fishing associations, making it the third West African nation to see an influx of trawlers this year.

The Liberia Artisanal Fishermen’s Association, along with community fishing associations, are calling on the government to reject the requests for fishing licenses by the trawlers, according to the Environmental Justice Foundation. The six trawlers are capable of taking 12,000 metric tons (MT) of fish a year, and put together can catch more than the sustainable yearly catch of species targeted by the small-scale artisanal canoe fishers.

“We sincerely hope that the government will respect Liberian law and protect the interests of local coastal communities and our shared marine environment,” Liberia Artisinal Fishermen’s Association President Jerry Blamo said. “Our waters support local jobs and provide good quality food, but granting these massive supertrawlers fishing licenses would destroy that.”

The outcry in Liberia was kicked off with the arrival of six vessels – Hao Yuan Yu 860, 861, 862, 863, 865, and 866, all of which were built in China. According to the EJF, the vessels tried to start operations in Mozambique, but subsequently headed to Liberia.

Each trawler is capable of catching 2,000 MT a year, but the maximum sustainable yield of key species is just over 7,100 MT a year.

The instance is of particular concern in Liberia, as 80 percent of the nation’s population is dependent on fish for dietary protein, according to the EJF.

“Over the last decade, we have worked extremely hard to stop illegal fishing and overfishing. We slowly see more fish for local fishermen to catch and women to process,” Charles Simpson, the president of the Grand Cape Mount County Community Management Association, said. “These supertrawlers would unfairly compete for the same fish as local fishermen and reverse all of that progress. We are calling on the government to safeguard Liberian coastal communities by refusing fishing licenses for these vessels.” 

This marks the third instance of local African fishing groups decrying the arrival of Chinese trawlers. In May, the Ghana National Canoe Fishermen Council called for three Chinese vessels to be denied licenses. That came just after fishermen in Senegal belonging to Groupement des Armateurs et Industriels de la Pêche au Senegal fought a campaign to block the licensing of 53 trawlers from gaining rights to the country’s EEZ.

EJF has said the growing instances of Chinese vessels arriving in West African waters is “worrying.” In a new report, the foundation said there is a high risk that seafood caught by vessels fishing illegally in Ghana is entering the European Union.

“The growth of China's industrial fleet in West Africa is deeply worrying. Many of these countries have small-scale fleets that are vital to local livelihoods, stability and food security. They have almost no chance of competing with supertrawlers that are able to hoover up vast amount of fish and move on,” EJF Executive Director Steve Trent said. “Liberia has taken enormous steps forward in managing its fisheries, and the National Fishing and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) has played a positive role combating illegal and unsustainable fishing. Fisheries management involves hard choices. We hope that NaFAA continues to safeguard Liberia’s fisheries and those that depend on them.”

Photo courtesy of the Environmental Justice Foundation


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