Ghana and other developing countries must petition the World Trade Organization (WTO) to push developed countries to withdraw subsidies on foreign industrial fishing vessels to stop them from overexploiting the fish resources of developing countries, Director of Environment and Natural Resource Research Initiative (ENRRI EfD Ghana), Professor Wisdom Akpalu has entreated.
ENRRI–EfD, also called on government to as a matter of urgency, report to the WTO, all foreign vessels who are legally operating in the country but are, however, taking part in Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the country’s waters.
Professor Akpalu, who is also the Dean of Graduate Studies at GIMPA, believes the amount of subsidies given to owners of foreign fishing vessels by governments of developed countries, is making it easier and cheaper for these trawlers to venture into territorial waters of developing countries for fishing purposes – a situation that has been contributing significantly to the phenomenon of IUU fishing.
This illegal practice, locally known as ‘saiko’, has become the main contributor to the depletion of the country’s fish stocks.
The ENRRI–EfD, also suggested that banning foreign vessels may be a better option, since the significant portion of fish consumed in developing countries, in the case of Ghana, are provided by artisanal fishermen.
“There would be enough fish available to feed the population even when these foreign vessels are banned. Prohibiting them won’t have any significant impact on domestic catch because the local trawlers as it stands, catches enough to feed the population. Banning foreign vessels may rather lead to replenishing of stocks,” Professor Akpalu indicated.
Deficit in catch with rising imports
Ghana, which consumes over 950,000 metric tons of fish annually, currently imports over 60 percent of its fish. The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development has attributed the high imports to the country’s depleting stocks and the need to urgently address it. Over 600,000 metric tonnes of fish is imported into Ghana every year, with the country’s annual catch estimated to be less than 400,000 metric tonnes.
Meanwhile, IUU fishing, according to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) costs Ghana more than US$80 million when catches are sold to foreign vessels at sea. The fishing industry in Ghana brings over US$500 million into the economy every year and employs over 3 million people in the value chain, according to the EJF.
Dominant Chinese interest and subsidy advantage
A report by the EJF, titled, ‘At what cost: How Ghana is losing out in fishing arrangements with China’s distant water fleet’, says lack of transparency around vessel ownership, with prosecutions failing to target the beneficial owners –often a much larger entity with controlling interests in the vessel – to ensure sanctions, is affecting the industry.
The report identified several cases of alleged illegal fishing in the country, linked to Chinese state-owned corporations that receive subsidies from China with the resultant effects leading to undervaluation of Ghana’s fishing sector.
One state-owned Chinese company with trawl operations in Ghana, Shandong Zhonglu Oceanic Fisheries Co Ltd, reported operating revenue of around US$164.5 million in 2019, receiving subsidies for the development of its overseas fishing operations of around US$3 million from the Chinese government in that year.
At least seven Chinese fishing companies with trawl operations in Ghana have obtained ocean fishery enterprise qualifications from the Chinese government which confer eligibility to receive state subsidies.
Meanwhile, total of 52 Ghanaian companies have held licenses for trawl vessels since 2015. The majority of local license holders reported an envisaged annual revenue of less than US$10,000 on incorporation. Nearly half of companies for which data were obtained reported an envisaged annual revenue of less than US$1,000.
In this vein, Professor Akpalu, indicated, looking at the way Ghana’s fish stocks are depleting steadily, government needs to do something quickly to prevent an entire depletion of stocks.
Formal letter to WTO in the journal Science by nearly 300 scientists
Indeed, Professor Akpalu was part of some 300 scientists from six others continents, who came together with one voice urging the WTO members to end harmful fisheries subsidies and protect the ocean’s health at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland.
These scientists, who range from economists and biologists to nutritionists and health specialists, published a letter in the journal Science on October 29 calling on WTO members to reach an agreement this year to eliminate all destructive fisheries subsidies – which could help curb overfishing, biodiversity degradation and loss and CO2 emissions to safeguard food and livelihoods.
Among other requests, the letter asked WTO members to prohibit subsidies that make it cheaper to purchase vessel fuel and that allow distant-water fishing on the high seas or in the waters of other nations.
These types of subsidies, the letter indicated, unfairly disadvantage small-scale fishers in developing countries, making it harder for them to compete with large, industrial-scale fishing fleets from developed nations.
The ENRRI – EfD Ghana
The Environment and Natural Resource Research Initiative (ENRRI – EfD Ghana) is one of the 15 centers under the Environment for Development (EfD) Initiative. ENRRI is hosted by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana (UG), and the School of Research and Graduate Studies (SRGS) at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA).