Greenpeace campaigner Pavel Klinckhamers looks out for fishing boats with binoculars from the Esperanza's monkey island. Greenpeace is on tour in West African waters to address the problem of overfishing in the region.

Greenpeace campaigner, Pavel Klinckhamers, looks out for fishing boats with binoculars from the Esperanza’s monkey island.

Sometimes, results of our work are not immediately visible, and lots of behind the scenes work and patience is needed to actually achieve our goals. A good example is our work on sustainable fisheries in West Africa. At this time last year, Greenpeace sailed with the ‘Esperanza’ to the waters of West Africa.

Fisheries in this region are in a poor state and we wanted to show and discuss with the responsible authorities that it is their responsibility to work together and manage their fisheries in a way that also allows future generations to benefit from this once plentiful resource. While being in the West African waters, we worked with local fisheries’ inspectors in four countries to jointly investigate fishing vessels and assisted them in making arrests.

Fisherman on board the FU YUANG YU 380 Chinese fishing boat hauling the net. Greenpeace is on tour in West African waters to address the problem of overfishing in the region.

Fisherman on board the FU YUANG YU 380 Chinese fishing boat hauling the net.

During our patrol at sea we inspected 37 industrial fishing vessels of which 17 vessels were found to be contravening applicable rules. Out of these vessels, 7 Chinese fishing ships were arrested and sent into ports. Normally, the coastal state in which the infringement is found will deal with the processing of the case, but Greenpeace also informed the Chinese authorities about the mischiefs these Chinese companies had been doing in African waters.  

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture was not deaf towards our call for stricter regulations of these Chinese vessels and set up their own investigation. One year after the start of our patrol, five out of the seven cases have been investigated and the companies and individual captains of the vessels have been punished.

The latest case, announced in the last week of February, dealt with the two arrested vessels of the  Lian Run Pelagic Fishing Company, Lian Run 34 and Lian Run 47. We had found these fishing boats fishing in the Guinean waters and caught them with shark fins on board, as well as with illegal fishing nets. Upon further investigation, the Chinese authorities also found that they actually did not have an authorisation from China to fish in the Guinean waters. Besides that, the company had also been caught engaged in three other illegal fishing cases back in 2015.

Fish hold on board Chinese boat LIAN RUN 39. Among other bycatch, are Manta rays. Greenpeace is on tour in West African waters to address the problem of overfishing in the region.

Fish hold on board Chinese boat LIAN RUN 39. Among other bycatch, are Manta rays.

To show that they were serious, the ministry revoked the company’s certificate to fish outside Chinese waters which will affect all their 30 vessels fishing abroad. Also, of the two arrested vessels, a whole year of subsidy was cancelled and the captains were punished.

In China, distant water fishing (DWF) companies have no way to gain profit without government’s subsidySo, stopping all of its approved DWF fishing programs and the cancellation of subsidy will give the company a real blow, which might even force this and similar companies that do not respect the rules to leave the industry.

Guinean fishery inspectors on board Chinese fishing boat FU YUANG YU 362, checking licence and documents during a joint high sea operation with Greenpeace.

Guinean fishery inspectors on board Chinese fishing boat FU YUANG YU 362, checking licence and documents during a joint high sea operation with Greenpeace.

Since 2016, 264 fishing vessels belonging to 78 Chinese distant water fishing companies have been held accountable for their role in Illegal, Unregulated or Unreported fishing. 700 million RMB (about € 90 million) of subsidy to these companies was cancelled by the government. Three companies lost their certificates for distant water fishing business and 15 people (either the company owner or the captain) were put on the blacklist.

We can now see that China is taking the wrongdoings of their fishing vessels more and more seriously. But there is still a long way to go, especially when you look at the footprint of Chinese fishing on a global scale. You can see that change is needed if we want to keep our oceans healthy and full of fish. But there is also a lesson to be learnt by the African coastal states.

Three Chinese fishing boats under arrest in the port of Conakry. From left: LIAN RUN 34, LIAN RUN 47 and FU YUAN YU 379. They were brought in port by Guinea's fishing authorities after a joint patrol week in the country EEZ with Greenpeace. Illegal fishing gear and sharks fins were discovered on board. For the first time in the fishing history of Guinea, the fines asked to the owners are substantial: 250 000 € for the first two and 350 000 € for the third boat plus confiscation of the fish catch of all vessels.

Three Chinese fishing boats under arrest in the port of Conakry. From left: LIAN RUN 34, LIAN RUN 47 and FU YUAN YU 379. They were brought in port by Guinea’s fishing authorities after a joint patrol week in the country EEZ with Greenpeace. Illegal fishing gear and sharks fins were discovered on board. For the first time in the fishing history of Guinea, the fines asked to the owners are substantial: 250 000 € for the first two and 350 000 € for the third boat plus confiscation of the fish catch of all vessels.

The current procedure is that fraudulent vessels are arrested and fined by the coastal state. After that, the vessels are allowed to go back out at sea and continue their business as usual, with only limited chance for arrest. When the African countries will be more transparent about the arrests that are made, and also share the information with flagstates like China, illegal activities can be much more efficiently tackled.

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