Chinese trawler fined $1m for fishing with illegal nets in Ghana

The Lu Rong Yuan Yu 956 was apprehended at sea having caught at least 13.9 tonnes of ‘small pelagic’ fish in a single day, a significant proportion of which were undersized juveniles.

These fishes were caught using nets with a mesh size below the legal limit.

After detaining the vessel on June 16, 2019, the Marine Police brought charges against the Chinese Captain, Chief Engineer and Second officer, and two Ghanaian crew members.

Appearing before an out-of-court settlement committee, the owner of the vessel agreed to pay a fine of US$1 million.

This is the statutory minimum fine under Ghana’s 2014 Fisheries Amendment Act. However, this is the first time that it has been imposed on an industrial trawl vessel, and since the Act came into force.

The small-mesh nets found onboard – which are illegal for an industrial trawler – show that the vessel was targeting small pelagic fish, such as sardinella.

In recent years, industrial trawlers, licensed to fish for species such as octopus, have targeted vast quantities of small pelagics for the destructive and illegal saiko trade. These catches are unloaded on to specially adapted saiko canoes out at sea, before being sold to local communities.

Known as the ‘people’s fish’, small pelagics are the main catch for artisanal canoe fishers and a staple food in Ghana. However, populations have crashed over the past two decades, threatening the livelihoods of canoe fishers and the food security of coastal communities.

This case highlights how illegal fishing makes sustainable fisheries management impossible. It follows the first-ever closed season for the artisanal fishing fleet, which took place from May 15 to June 15, 2019.

This was put in place to give fish populations the chance to replenish and stave off collapse. The fact that trawlers were out at sea during this time, illegally targeting the canoe fishers’ catch, means any ecological gains may have been severely undermined.