The economy loses between US$14.4million and US$23.7million yearly in fishing licence fees and fines for trawlers, a new report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has revealed.
The losses, the report said, are as a result of the country issuing licence fees and fines far lower and insignificant to trawlers compared with other countries in the region. These fishing trawlers are mostly foreign-owned, with an estimated 90 percent of them belonging to Chinese corporations – despite foreign ownership or control being outlawed.
“To circumvent the law, these corporations operate through local ‘front’ companies, using opaque corporate structures to import their vessels, register and obtain a licence to fish. The fact that these vessels are registered as Ghanaian seems to be the justification for low licence fees and fines well below the statutory minimum. However, information on true ownership reveals this is misguided,” says the report.
It said the country could generate an additional US$2.4 – 6.7million every year by increasing its fees for foreign trawlers to similar levels as its neighbours.
For instance, with a 2020 increase in fees from US$35 to US$135 per gross register tonne per year, the annual licence fee for an average 200GRT trawler was around US$30,000, compared to around US$ 19,000 per annum for a foreign trawler of this size operating in Guinea. Meanwhile, a single state-owned Chinese company with trawl operations in Ghana reported an operating revenue of around US$164.5million in 2019, receiving subsidies for the development of its overseas fishing operations of around US$3million in that year.
By implementing the same fees as Guinea, Ghana could reduce trawler numbers from 75 to 10 vessels yet double the revenue generated through licensing fees in 2018, the report says,
As well as increasing state revenue, it said this would address the worrying over-capacity in the fleet, provide huge benefits to the country’s struggling small-scale fishery, which supports jobs and food security for millions of Ghanaians
It therefore lamented that the country is grossly undervaluing its fisheries in dealings with the Chinese fishing companies through intermediaries.
“Licencing revenues in Ghana are a tiny fraction of the value of catches landed by the industrial trawl fleet,” the report highlights, adding that licence fees collected in 2018 represented just 0.4 percent of the landed value – excluding illegal and unreported catches, which are thought to be substantial. In Sierra Leone this was 7 percent and 10 percent in Liberia, figures that are still considered low.
In terms of penalties, the report found that fines given out for illegal fishing and other infringements in the country are also much lower: “They regularly fail to meet the minimum sums laid out in Ghana’s own legislation, and do not meet Ghana’s responsibilities under international law. Not only has this resulted in unrealised revenue of around US$12million in 2015 and US$17million in 2018, it is failing to deter such offences”.
Over the last few years, trawlers have engaged in widespread illegal fishing in Ghana’s waters, failing to report huge catch volumes to the state and decimating the ‘small pelagic’ fish populations which are reserved for local communities.
“As a result of the low level of transparency around vessel ownership, prosecutions fail to target the beneficial owners – often a much larger entity with a controlling interest in the vessel. Cases are generally heard through opaque out-of-court settlement processes, with fines imposed at well below the statutory minimum, and in some cases going unpaid,” it observed.
The report also identified several cases of alleged illegal fishing in Ghana linked to a Chinese state-owned corporation in receipt of government subsidies like Shandong Zhonglu Oceanic Fisheries Company Limited, and further cases of alleged illegal fishing linked to a second Chinese state-owned company, Shandong Ocean Fishery Development Corporation.
Commenting on the findings, EJF’s Executive Director, Steve Trent said: “There is a grave risk that Ghana’s fisheries will soon collapse, impacting the livelihoods of over 2.7 million Ghanaians. Safeguarding the country’s fisheries requires urgent intervention at high levels of government to introduce reforms which improve transparency; so it is clear who is benefitting from fishing access; what and how much they are fishing; how much they are paying, and what these funds are used for. This failure to set reasonable fines and fees not only results in a considerable loss of revenue, but also presents a critical threat to sustainability of the fisheries – and in doing so endangers national food security and countless livelihoods”.