China Fishing Illegally in West Africa: Greenpeace Study

Fishing Nets on Dock

Published May 20, 2015 5:42 PM by Kathryn Stone

Chinese fishing companies have flocked to the coast of west Africa over the last three decades to engage in illegal and ecologically destructive fishing practices, according to a Greenpeace report issued Wednesday. 

The study is the culmination of a two year investigation into China’s Distant Water Fishing (DWF) companies. According to the report one-fifth of the Chinese owned distant water fleet currently operates off the coast of Africa, putting the number of fishing operations at 462 in 2013. This number shows a significant increase from the 1985 figure of just 13 vessels. 

At least 74 of these fishing vessels have been implicated in 82 cases of illegal activities ranging from operating in prohibited areas to falsifying gross tonnage. Greenpeace asserts that the infractions are present in private and state-owned companies at every level of operation. Even one of the largest Chinese DWF companies has been implicated in the violations, the organization claims. 

Between October and November of 2014, while the country fought an Ebola outbreak the Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza documented over 16 cases of fishing in prohibited zones in the country of Guinea alone. Over the 26 days that the vessel was at sea this averaged out to one report of illegal or undocumented activity every two days.

Rashid Kang, head of Greenpeace East Asia’s China Ocean Campaign stated that “while China extended a hand in friendship during the Ebola outbreak, rogue Chinese companies were unlawfully exploiting West Africa’s marine environment. They were taking advantage of weak enforcement and supervision from local and Chinese authorities to the detriment of local fishermen and the environment.” 

The organization also adds that China has begun to rectify fishing policies in domestic waters but “are exporting the destructive fishing model” to Africa because of weak governmental regulation and fishery management systems in the region. Additionally, the type of vessels most commonly being used are bottom trawlers which the organization claims are “one of the most destructive fishing methods in the modern fishing industry.”

Greenpeace has also investigated illegal African fishing practices of the EU, Korea and Russia over the past decade. However, in a statement released today the organization held up the EU as an example for Chinese behavior in Africa. “If China wants to be a genuine friend of Africa, it should follow the path of EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, which is slowly rectifying the EU’s own history of irresponsible fishing in the region,” said Ahmed Diamé, Greenpeace Africa Ocean Campaigner.” Over the last two decade changes to the Common Fisheries Policy have restricted where ships are allowed to fish and included steps to protect endangered fishing stocks.