Ghana’s new 2019 Companies Act is expected to make it much more difficult for Chinese fishing corporations to illegally use Ghanaian ‘front’ companies to obtain local licenses.
The new Act, we learn, requires clear identification of ‘beneficial owners’ and designed to improve transparency in company ownership and reveal any vested interests.
The Environmental Justice Foundation investigations have shown that around 90% of Ghana’s industrial trawl fleet is linked to Chinese ownership. Ghanaian law expressly forbids foreign ownership of industrial trawl vessels operating under the Ghanaian flag but there is ample evidence that Ghanaians front for these Chinese industrial trawlers for a fee.
Industrial vessels ¬– with the sole exception of tuna vessels – should be wholly owned by Ghanaians, says Section 47 of the 2002 Fisheries Act (Act 625), and specifically refers to beneficial ownership. Information on beneficial ownership must be provided to the Fisheries Commission as part of an application to register a vessel as a Ghanaian fishing vessel, as laid out in the 2015 Fisheries (Amendment) Regulations.
In spite of these laid down provisions in the country’s Fisheries Act, Ghana’s fisheries are being driven to the brink of collapse by industrial trawlers breaking the law.
If they are allowed to continue with impunity, without risk that they will be properly sanctioned, national food security and the livelihoods of millions of Ghanaians will be put at risk. These laws are in place to ensure that the Ghanaians receive a fair value for their resources: flouting them is denying the country of crucial economic revenue.
Illegal fishing is considered globally as a fundamental driver of overfishing threatening marine ecosystems. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing puts food security and regional stability at risk.
West Africa’s IUU accounts for approximately 40% of fish caught. This estimated percentage is considered the highest worldwide. Illegal fishing by foreign trawlers is decimating Ghana’s fish population and costing the country millions of dollars in revenue.
The challenge with IUU fishing in Ghana is exacerbated because small fishing vessels load their catch onto reefers while at sea. During this transshipment, fishermen on board are also supplied with food or fuel to enable them remain at sea for months.
The transshipment of Ghana’s pelagic fisheries puts fish stocks under severe pressure. That is why new 2019 Companies Act offers a breath of fresh air, provided it is able to limit and/or make it difficult for Chinese fishing corporations to illegally use Ghanaian ‘front’ companies to obtain local licenses.