China’s Illegal Fishing Fleet In GhanaIs Is Rife With Abuses

By Ashira Morris, ODP Contributing Writer

A new report from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) exposes the horrific conditions that Ghanain fishermen face on Chinese-owned industrial trawlers. The report includes testimonies from the Ghanian crew of beatings, a lack of drinkable water, and punishing working hours. Almost all of Ghana’s industrial fishing fleet — nearly 90% — is linked to Chinese ownership registered under Ghanain front companies. This capture of the country’s fishing industry flies in the face of Ghanian laws that forbid foreign ownership or control of ships flying its flag. It also makes illegal fishing much harder to trace and regulate.  

Why This Matters: It’s impossible to have sustainable fisheries when as much as half of the global catch is illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU). As EJF’s report explains, it’s a vicious cycle in which fishing operators try to maintain catch rates and profits, even when the stocks are overfished. To keep hitting their numbers, they may fish illegally or lower their operations cost by underpaying workers. This puts workers in a more precarious situation and wrecks the fish stock. It also throws off data for fisheries management, making catch limits and other measures inaccurate to the actual number of fish in the sea. Greater global regulation of this type of fishing could lead to fewer violations of fishing and labor laws.  

Abuses Abound in Ghana

On top of the human rights abuses of the crew, fishery observers also faced threats of violence while trying to report the widespread illegal fishing on these boats. And beyond direct intimidation, these “flags of convenience”  — flying one country’s flag on a ship that’s actually owned and operated by another — make monitoring and enforcing regulations much harder. Worldwide, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing accounts for 20-50% of the global catch. “Flags of convenience in fisheries confound accountability,” states another related EJF fisheries report published this month.  International representatives recently met to discuss solutions to deceptive flags of convenience. Although the US attended the meeting, it has not committed to a more active role in protecting against human rights abuses or enforcing fishing regulations.

Monitoring as Part of the Solution: Fish stocks worldwide are in bad shape, with just a fifth of commercial species sustainably fished. One way to help improve that percentage is through at-sea monitoring, where a camera or human observer keeps an eye on what’s being fished or illegally thrown back overboard. New England’s regional fishery council just adopted a plan to monitor all trips for the groundfish sector, joining the US Pacific fisheries that already require 100% monitoring. By monitoring every trip, managers and scientists have more accurate data, which is at the foundation of a sustainable fishery.

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