EJF Documents Severe Impact of Foreign Trawlers in Ghana

Stolen at Sea: The Chinese Trawlers Driving the Collapse of Ghana’s Fisheries from Environmental Justice Foundation on Vimeo.

By The Maritime Executive 06-17-2019 09:32:26

Saiko is a form of illegal fishing where foreign trawlers target the staple catch of Ghanaian canoe fishers and sell this stolen fish back to local communities at a profit, and for the first time, a new report has estimated the true cost of the practice. 

In 2017, this trade took around 100,000 tonnes of fish, costing Ghana tens of millions of dollars in revenue and meaning that just 40 percent of trawler catches were landed legally that year. This threatened food security and coastal livelihoods, the investigations show. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) filmed illegal activities as they happened at sea and undertook first-hand monitoring at ports and data analysis to reveal the full scale of this form of organized crime.

The trawlers themselves are run almost exclusively by Chinese operators, who use Ghanaian “front” companies to bypass laws forbidding any foreign ownership or control of industrial trawl vessels flying Ghana’s flag. EJF has revealed that over 90 percent of industrial trawlers licensed in Ghana are linked to Chinese ownership.

These industrial boats are able to catch vast quantities of small pelagic fish such as sardinella – the main catch of the local canoe fishers and a crucial part of the Ghanaian diet. Unless ambitious action is taken, scientists estimate that these stocks could last less than six more years.

In addition, much of the saiko catch is juvenile fish – over 60 percent of fish analyzed from October 2018 - April 2019, the report found. Harvesting at this early stage can severely impact the capacity of Ghana’s fish stocks to replenish.

The saiko catches in 2017 were worth $ 40.6 - 50.7 million when sold at sea and $ 52.7 - 81.1 million when sold at the landing site, the report estimates. Much of this money passes straight into the hands of the Chinese fishing companies and out of Ghana.

Saiko also causes job losses. The specially built saiko canoes that take the fish from the trawlers back to ports such as Elmina carry 450 times the average catch of the fishing canoes and are operated by only a few individuals. The report calculates that while canoe fishing offers direct employment for around 60 fishers for every 100 tonnes of fish, saiko means only 1.5 jobs per 100 tonnes.

Saiko is precipitating the collapse of Ghana’s staple fish stock and with it, poverty and hunger for its people, says the EJF. But it is absolutely clear that the government has the ability to stop this illegal and highly damaging activity now and equally clear that it must do so without delay if it is to prevent the collapse of these fisheries.