Environmental watchdog Greenpeace says scores of Chinese fishing boats are illegally fishing off West Africa, even though Beijing says they are within the law. Observers say one-fifth of China’s distant water fishing fleet is operating in Africa.
The new report from Greenpeace said that over the span of a decade 183 illegal fishing cases involving more than 100 Chinese ships were reported in the West African countries of Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
“The region was also hard hit by Ebola. So what we have found was at least 16 cases of illegal fishing that have happened, so that’s roughly about one case every two days,” said Rashid Kang, head of Greenpeace East Asia’s China ocean campaign.
China’s Foreign Ministry has rejected the report, saying Chinese companies abided by the law and contributed to African economies through "paying taxes, providing jobs and increasing incomes, which is welcomed by local governments and their people."
But Greenpeace said the Chinese frequently supplied incorrect identification information that sometimes suggested they were in Mexican waters or even on land to avoid detection.
Kang said many ships also under-reported their catches to avoid paying taxes to West African countries.
“The owner of the fishing vessel actually undeclares the tonnage of the fish, which means that they pay less tax and licensing fees to the coastal state,” he said.
The number of Chinese fishing boats operating in African waters has soared from 13 in 1985 to 462 in 2013. The huge increase in Chinese fishing vessels parallels growing Chinese investment and presence in the region. Kang said illegal fishing could damage Sino African ties.
“The Chinese companies are actually doing things opposite to the Chinese government in Africa; so I think that in the long run that will undermine the Sino African relationship, because the local people will not distinguish between the companies and the government,” he said.
China made an estimated $75 billion in investments in Africa from 2000 to 2011. In 2013, trade between China and the African continent totaled $200 billion.