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China's Distant Fishing Fleet Is Decimating What's Left of Ghana's Fish Stocks

Over-fishing by illegally-run foreign trawlers is decimating what’s left of Ghana’s fish stocks. In fact, the situation is so severe, that experts believe as early as next year, entire categories of fish that once sustained the local Ghanian market will be gone. 

This kind of illegal fishing, known as “saiko,” where these large foreign vessels sweep up vast amounts of fish and then sell that back to locals at a huge mark-up, is extremely profitable, according to a report published last month by the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation and the Ghanian coastal advocacy non-profit Hen Mpoano. The groups found that an estimated 100,000 tons of “saiko” fish were caught in 2017 and then sold back to local communities for around $50 million.

So, not only is this unregulated practice depleting the country’s fish supplies, but it’s also extracting millions of dollars from the local economy.

“Although flagged to Ghana, over 90% of these vessels are linked to Chinese beneficial owners, in spite of national laws prohibiting foreign ownership and control in the sector.” — Hen Mpoano and Environmental Justice Foundation

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that China’s distant water fishing fleets are reported to be the main culprits. The fleet has been operating illegally off the coast of West Africa for years, using banned drift net fishing methods that suck up everything in their path. 

In Ghana, the EJF/Hen Mpoano report claims that 90% of the industrial fleet operating there is Chinese-owned and in a bid to hide their activities they are hiring local Ghanaians as “front companies” to shield them from prosecution.

Kofi Agbogah, Hen Mpoano’s Executive Director, struggles to educate policymakers on the severity of the situation in the hope that it will prompt them to act similarly as they did against illegal Chinese gold mines in 2013. But he admits it’s going to be a long, slow process and at the current rate of illegal “saiko” fishing, it may be too late to save Ghana’s remaining fish stocks.


Kofi Agbogah has over 25 years experience working as a scientist in research, development management, consultancy and teaching. His experience covers water sciences and fisheries, waste management, coastal resources and -. He has been in the leadership – managing the – USAID-funded Integrated Coastal and Fisheries Governance (ICFG) Initiative in the Western Region of Ghana. In the last 4 years, he has worked towards policy shift and behavior change in fisheries and coastal zone governance. Kofi is the Director of Hɛn Mpoano.

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