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Second vessel arrest indicates Chinese company is behind repeated illegal fishing

A second vessel linked to a single Chinese company has been arrested in Ghana for repeated illegal fishing offences. The trawler Lu Rong Yuan Yu 959 was apprehended last month for taking on board a catch that was 90% made up of juvenile fish below the minimum landing size. This is the vessel’s second known arrest, and records indicate that it is owned by the same company as another vessel arrested twice for almost identical violations. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has urged Ghanaian authorities to undertake a thorough, transparent investigation and urgently consider the role of foreign ownership of vessels that are legally meant to be owned by locals.

The Lu Rong Yuan Yu 959 was apprehended in September by Ghana’s Navy and Marine Police for possession of undersized fish which made up 90% of a single haul. And this was not its first arrest: in April 2015 the vessel was arrested for the same offence of taking aboard undersized fish and fined GHS 200,000 (around US$50,000).

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Industrial trawlers harvesting significant quantities of juvenile fish are a serious concern. Catching these fish, which are often sold to local fishing communities as part of the destructive and illegal ‘ saiko ’ trade, devastates fish populations that are already severely depleted.

According to available data from the Chinese government, the vessel is owned by Rongcheng Ocean Fishery Company. They also are listed as the owners of the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956, which was arrested in June 2019 for catching undersized fish and use of illegal nets and fined US$1 million in October 2019. The vessel failed to pay, was relicensed to fish and arrested again in May 2020 for almost identical offences. The vessel was then relicensed again while awaiting hearing on the two cases.

In neither the 2015 case concerning the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 959, nor the cases from 2019-2020 involving the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956, was the apparent foreign owner the target of proceedings, only the local registered owner. An estimated 90% of trawlers fishing in Ghana are owned by Chinese corporations that use Ghanaian ‘front companies’ to gain registration. Opaque ownership arrangements are not only illegal, they also have allowed the owners of vessels to escape scrutiny for illegal practices which are rife in Ghana’s trawl industry.

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A minimum fine of US$1 million is due where a fishing vessel is found to have taken on board undersized fish, according to Ghana’s 2002 Fisheries Act (Act 625), as amended by the 2014 Fisheries (Amendment) Act (Act 880). The fine increases to US$2-4 million for a second contravention along with suspension of the vessel’s fishing licence for six months from the date of conviction.

Therefore, according to Ghanaian law, the Rongcheng Ocean Fishery Company should be fined at least US$4 million for the two most recent offences, if convicted, and both vessels should have their licence suspended.

Executive Director of EJF, Steve Trent, said: “Illegal fishing in Ghana will not end unless the true perpetrators are identified and punished with deterrent measures. Transparent information on ownership, along with consistent and robust enforcement action is desperately needed. Ghanaian authorities should fully investigate this case and, where appropriate, issue robust sanctions that are in line with the law. This is essential to protect Ghana’s marine ecosystems and the millions of Ghanaians who depend on them.”

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