Ghana’s fisheries sector is a major contributor to the country’s economy, providing jobs and nutrition to millions, but for a long time now the sector has come under severe pressure from illegal fishing activities.
Activities of illegal foreign fishing trawlers are not only depleting fish stocks and affecting the livelihood of local fishers, but they are also a threat to the country’s food security.
The illegal activities, by both local and foreign actors, have over time eroded the gains made in the sector and pose a great threat to the sustainability of the local sector and to the country’s economy.
A worrying phenomenon that further compounds the woes of Ghana’s finishing industry is the sheer number of foreign trawlers in Ghanaian waters.
In our investigations into the fisheries sector, we found different data on the number of foreign vessels in Ghanaian waters. A study by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) puts the number of foreign trawlers operating in Ghana at 137. These vessels are operating with impunity, while law enforcers look on, our sources told us.
A fisheries economist at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Prof Wisdom Akpalu says the highest number of vessels ideal for Ghana’s fishing industry should be 48. He explains that with just about 48 vessels the country can generate the highest benefits from the sector.
Hit hard by the activities of these trawlers, local fishermen are expressing their frustrations over what they see as an invasion. They don’t even believe official statistics on foreign trawlers. Adjetey Tawia, the organiser of canoe and fishing gear owners association in Tema, said, “things have deteriorated because from 2001 when we received the Chinese trawlers into our oceans, a lot of damages have occurred in our ocean. We have 74 Chinese trawlers on our oceans but we the fishermen know it is more than that. How can you allow such a large number to work in our small oceans?”
Meanwhile, data from the Fisheries Commission on registered vessels in Ghana’s territorial waters in 2021 alone indicates that a total of 80 vessels have been in operation.
A list of some of the registered fishing companies and licensed vessels. Source: Fisheries CommissionBO disclosures in the fisheries sector
While the fisheries sector is a capital-intensive investment sector, it appears the lawmakers did not include it in the beneficial ownership regime. But officials admit it should have been in.
Deputy Chief Company Inspector at the Office of the Registrar of Companies (ORC) Mrs Yayira Banini said unlike companies that operate in the financial, minerals, petroleum, insurance and real estate sectors among others, which are high-risk areas, “the fisheries sector is not part of the high-risk area and there will certainly be the need to amend the law to rope in the sector.”
“The fisheries sector has not been on the radar with regards to BO disclosures because the sector is considered not a high-risk area and so there will be the need for some amendments to the law,” she stated.
Banini, however, assured that even though the current law does not absolve low-risk companies from disclosing their beneficial ownership information, the ORC would critically focus on the fisheries sector and expand its scope to ensure that companies there comply with BO requirements.
“Being a new concept the ORC will keep updating and developing the BO registry to add up to the existing list,” she added.
Meanwhile, data from the ORC of a sample of eight (8) fishing companies registered in 2021, show no single company in the sector has filed their BO information. The data has only the usual information of shareholders and directors of the companies.
But, it must be noted that the composition of the shareholders is both foreign and local, in accordance with the shareholding structure stipulated by Section 47 (1) (b) of the Fisheries Act, 2002, Act 625, though under the current arrangements, the general threshold for a BO is 10 percent or greater interest in a company, be it direct or indirect interest.
From the list of shareholding of the sampled companies, it is indicative by the given names that thy are of Asian origin. For example, the directors of ‘Dong Sheng Limited’ are given as Xing Yanwei, and Yueke Bi but among the shareholders, Rongcheng Ocean Fishing Co. Ltd. holds the majority shares of 756,000.
Similarly, AFKO Fishes Company Limited has Yopungok Han being the highest stake of 2,000,000 among the six shareholders.
According to the data, as of the 4th quarter of 2021, there were 23 licensed fishing companies and 45 licensed fishing vessels or trawlers. In the same period of 2021, there were 13 tuna-licensed fishing companies operating through 28 vessels. The data suggested that four companies were foreign-owned. From the data, the BO regime has not significantly impacted the fisheries sector.
Fronting and abuse of rules
Even though about 44,000 companies in Ghana have so far complied with Ghana’s Beneficial Ownership Transparency initiative and submitted true owners of their companies to the ORC, according to the Centre for Extractive Development Africa, Fisheries economist Prof Akpalu says local people are fronting for foreigners, contrary to the provisions of Ghana’s fishing regulations.
“At the end of the day, foreigners get almost all of the benefits. We get nothing,” he laments.
Prof Akpalu stressed that the Fisheries Act 625 2002 prohibits foreigners from operating industrial vessels/trawlers in Ghana. He explained that industrial trawling is a preserve of Ghanaians so those vessels are supposed to be fully owned by Ghanaians. But “the problem is that Ghanaians do not have the capital to acquire those vessels and the laws make provisions for hire purchase agreements, so if you don’t have money, you can buy on hire purchase and pay over time,” he explained.
According to the fisheries expert, Ghanaians who front for the vessels pretend to be in a hire purchase agreement with the owners of the vessels but “these are phoney agreements.”
“As per those agreements, the vessels are supposed to be fully owned by Ghanaians at the end of five years for example, but then we see that by the end of the five years, all they do is to change the name and a new person becomes the new owner who has gone into some hire purchase agreement with the same vessel so the same thing keeps rotating. This means that although we have laws that make it illegal for foreigners to operate those vessels in our waters, the provisions in the law that make it possible for one to go into a hire purchase agreement have been abused,” Prof Akpalu explained.
“The beneficial owners are foreigners,” the fisheries expert asserted.
Similarly, Nii Odametey, chief fisherman at the Tema Newtown Canoe Basin, alluded to the team “the trawlers are owned by foreigners, not Ghanaians.”
Background to Beneficial Ownership (BO) in Ghana
Ghana has in 2016, committed to implementing a BO regime. This was backed by signing on to several global conventions such as Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative ( EITI), Financial Action Task Force ( FATF), Global Forum, Open Government Partnership (OGP), and United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) among others.
The ORC was mandated to house the BO central register. The Companies Act 1963 (Act 179) was amended to include provisions on BO. This amendment was the Companies Amendment Act, 2016 (Act 920) and Act 992 (2019)
Currently, all new companies are required to provide BO details before registration while existing ones are required to update ORC with their BOs. Companies are to give the ORC their BO details at the time of filing annual returns and have a 2022 deadline, failing which sanctions will apply.
This article is the result of investigations undertaken by the following journalists. The project was funded by Open Ownership.
Isaac Aidoo, Kizito Cudjoe , Emmanuel Wiafe Aboagye , Alberta Bissue Ansong , Adnan Adams and Prince Appiah