Madagascar protects fisheries from illegal Chinese operators

The Malagasy government has not – for now – granted fishing licenses to a fleet of Chinese vessels with a history of illegal fishing and using forged documents. If this decision is upheld, it will help to protect the food security and rights of the country’s small-scale fishers and coastal communities, says the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) on March 21, which has urged the government to commit to this progressive action by excluding this fleet, and any others with a history of illegality, for good.

In 2021, Mada Fishery, a company linked to Chinese ownership and registered in Madagascar, was granted exploitation rights for eight vessels for the next five years by the Malagasy government.

However, under the watch of Madagascar’s Minister of Fisheries and the Blue Economy, Paubert Mahatante, it appears that the Malagasy government has not – for now – issued licenses to the Mada Fishery vessels to operate in Madagascan waters this year.

Four of the eight vessels expected to operate under Mada Fishery (named Gorde 105, 106, 107 and 108) have a history of illegal fishing and of operating using forged documents. In 2020, three of these vessels were arrested in the Gambia for fishing illegally in waters reserved for small-scale fishers. Two of the three were also ‘double-bagging’ their nets, in violation of Gambian fisheries regulations.

Moreover, EJF found that the identification numbers and company names were invalid for four of the vessels in the Chinese vessel registration certificates, and the vessel codes, a 16-digit identifier number used by the Chinese government for fishing vessels, appear to be incorrect.

The Madagascar fisheries code states that the fisheries ministry “must refuse” to grant a license to any foreign vessel that “has in the past participated in illegal, unregulated or unreported fishing operations.” 

In refusing Mada Fishery access to Malagasy waters, the minister has acted to protect Madagascar’s fisheries and uphold Malagasy law, while safeguarding the food security, livelihoods and rights of small-scale fishers and coastal communities. EJF has urged the government to commit to this progressive course of action for this fleet, and any other vessels with a history of illegal activity.

Steve Trent, founder and CEO of EJF, commented: “Illegal fishing operators are plundering fish populations and damaging marine ecosystems around the world. We applaud the Minister for taking progressive action in the face of this threat and urge him to make the exclusion permanent. Along with putting in place key transparency measures, refusing fishing licenses to vessels with a history of illegal fishing is crucial to protect our ocean. 

“The threat that these operators pose to our ocean ecosystems and coastal communities cannot be overstated and it is time for governments to take action to protect their marine life and the food security of their people.”

Photo credit: iStock/ Artush

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