Luis Domingo, a fisherman in Beira, Mozambique, pursues the trade that has maintained his family for generations.
But now he said, “I can go out to sea all day and return ashore with a very small catch or nothing.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re running out of fish.”
Exhausted fish stocks have prompted some of his co-fishermen to leave the villages on the Indian Ocean coast, Domingo said. They have settled inland to pursue smallholder agriculture.
“But we often have droughts in the country and agriculture is also difficult,” he said. “For many years our life was about fishing, but we have no options.”
Some fishermen blamed Chinese ships for dwindling fish stocks.
Eduardo Chisale, another fisherman in the region, said: “I have heard of so many Chinese fishing vessels here in Mozambique, and some of these vessels are fishing illegally. I pray they won’t leave us without fish at all. I survive with fish and nothing else. “
Fishermen in Beira, Mozambique. (Andrew Mambondiyan for The Epoch Times)
A wide network and a false flag
It is difficult to say exactly how big the problem of Chinese looting is in Africa. Studies on the subject have shown that Chinese fisheries agreements with African governments are not transparent enough. Some ships with licenses disregard quotas; Many ships sail without a license at all.
China has the largest remote water fishing fleet in the world. According to a report commissioned by the European Parliament in 2012, an estimated 80 per cent of Chinese long-distance water fishing comes from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Some studies of IUU fishing in Africa have confirmed China’s strong presence. For example, Chinese ships in a 2007 Environmental Justice Foundation survey identified more than half of the IUU ships identified off the coast of Guinea.
Ships from many other nations are also guilty of the IUU. Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy are among the European countries where ships loot the seas of Africa.
“We haven’t found any” innocent “nations,” Heather Stimmler, media director of Sea Shepherd Global nonprofit, said in an email to The Epoch Times.
Stimmler said it is difficult to know who is actually behind the problem of illegal fishing as many countries use cheap flags to hide the owners’ nationalities. Shipping companies use cheap flags by registering their ships in countries with less strict enforcement mechanisms, including Belize, Honduras and Panama.
Many also do flag jumping. If a ship is caught and punished for illegal practices, it can quickly change its name and registration. Some fishing companies also set up joint ventures with local partners to label their vessels as African.
IUU fishing threatens the fishing industry and ocean health worldwide. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), almost 90 per cent of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited.
In West Africa, about half of all fishing is done by IUU. That’s over $ 2 billion a year that could end up in the hands of local fishermen and communities. It also represents hundreds of thousands of local jobs.
The problem is widespread in East African countries like Mozambique and the local population has little time to support them.
Pushed into a corner
Many fishermen are “driven by crime, terrorism and piracy,” said Yasin Hagi Mohamoud, Foreign Minister of the East African Republic of Somaliland, in an open appeal he wrote in March.
“Somaliland’s small fishing fleet cannot compete with Chinese ships and the advanced technology they use. It is said that a Chinese ship can catch as many fish in a week as an average fishing boat in Africa can catch in a year. Across Africa, this inequality will save billions of dollars. “
For many years, the Chinese have similarly dominated the raw materials industry on land, especially logging and mining.
“(Logging) is dominated by Chinese who go into the bush and convince the poorest to cut the logs,” Imede Falume, Mozambique’s deputy forest director, told Reuters last year.
At that time, the Mozambican government signed a memorandum of understanding with China to curb the large forest loss. According to the non-profit organization Global Forest Watch, 10 per cent of the country’s forests have disappeared since 2000.
A recent survey by Zam magazine in Mozambique found that “the routes where wood and now fish were looted appeared to overlap”. The magazine claimed that “there is a network of Mozambican party leaders and Chinese companies” responsible.
Chisale, the Mozambican fisherman, said he was afraid of reprisals by powerful people associated with illegal Mozambique fishing if he continued to talk to the Epoch Times about it. At the same time, he is optimistic that his government will do something about the situation.
“I know that our government will do something to protect us because fishing is our future,” said Chisale.
In November, Leonilde Chimarize, the national chief of operations of the Mozambican Ministry of Inland Waterways and Fisheries, announced at a meeting in the capital that the government was working on it.
She said more than 200 illegal fishing charges were filed last year and most of the culprits were foreign ocean-going vessels. He said the Mozambican government is reviewing legislation, including the creation of sea courts to curb illegal fishing in the country.
Ahmed Diame, an advocate of Greenpeace Africa, has asked African countries to work together on the problem. In a blog post from 2017, he said, “I saw the crew welcoming the arrest of their boat and knew that their captain’s orders were wrong. And I’ve heard people on land across West Africa talk about their suffering.”
The non-profit initiative Stop Illegal Fishing has helped African countries to work with FISH-i Africa. A network of countries, including Mozambique, has been established to exchange information on fishing.
For example, if a particular ship has traded illegally in the waters off a country’s coast, the other countries are alerted and block entry into their waters.
Peter Sinon, former Minister of Natural Resources in the Seychelles, said in a FISH-i Africa press release that before FISH-i, “(we shot) in the dark and didn’t see the whole picture. The illegal fishermen would play us off against each other, be clean in one port and illegal in another. “
China has taken measures to address the problem. According to Greenpeace, subsidies of $ 111.6 million were cancelled for ships that illegally fished from 2016 to 2018. It has also revoked multiple companies’ remote fishing licenses.
China has had a shaky relationship with international laws such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which would protect the African coasts.
“While China has aligned its legislation with UNCLOS, enforcing those laws and regulations remains a major challenge,” said Tabitha Grace Mallory of Johns Hopkins University when she testified to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in 2012 that the implementation UNCLOS has challenged dealing with other nations in the South China Sea that are closer to their homeland.
With some other international initiatives related to IUU, China has either refused to sign or signed but not ratified it. For example, it has not signed the 2009 United Nations Convention on Port State Measures, which requires port states to inspect fishing vessels and refuse entry to those involved in IUU fishing.
The human cost
The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a UK-based organization that works internationally to combat threats to environmental security and related human rights violations, says marine fisheries are for food security, income, and employment for coastal people across West Africa vital.
It is estimated that 6.7 million people are directly dependent on fishing to ensure food and livelihood. In countries such as Ghana and Sierra Leone, fish accounted for over 50 per cent of animal protein intake, EJF said in a recent report.
Greenpeace’s Diame spoke about the conditions of the people working on the boats and food hygiene issues when he described a ship he was watching: “Nets, trash and dead fish were scattered on the rusty deck. We found that at least 20 workers were working on the tiny 21m boat in incredibly cramped and unsanitary conditions. “