Unseen Menace, Part 2: How Chinese vessels are fishing West African ports dry

Fifty-five of the 88 fishing boats registered in the Port of Abidjan belong to Chinese-controlled joint ventures.
Fifty-five of the 88 fishing boats registered in the Port of Abidjan belong to Chinese-controlled joint ventures. © France 24

Complaints have poured in from around the globe about the harmful and evasive practices of Chinese fishing fleets. We worked with our Observers to investigate the impact of these massive fishing enterprises in different locations, from the Galapagos Islands off of Ecuador to Iran to West Africa. In this second part of our investigation, we looked at what was happening in and around the port of Abidjan, in Ivory Coast. Our Observers told us about Chinese-controlled joint ventures carrying out unsustainable and harmful fishing practices that have a direct impact on the local population.


In recent years, foreign fishing operations have moved into the filled-filled waters off of West Africa.  They range from large French and Spanish tuna vessels to trawlers, most of them Chinese. 

The trawlers focus on bringing in fish that represent a key food source for local people, including small pelagic fish like emperors. 

This is the focus of the second part of our most recent investigation for “Observers Direct”. 

. © France 24

In the Port of Abidjan, Ivorian sailors and fishermen working on these trawlers spoke out about their employers’ harmful practices, including overfishing and continuing to fish during critical biological recovery periods, which are supposed to give time for fish to spawn. The Ivorians said the Chinese-run boats often catch fish that are much too young, which also impacts future fish stocks. They also spoke out about difficult working conditions and their employers’ failure to meet regulations specific to Ivorian maritime law. 

As part of our investigation, we also confirmed that many of the Chinese-controlled  fishing boats operate without turning on their Automatic Identification System (AIS), a tracking system that is compulsory for vessels of their size. 

Our Observers, fishermen from the Ivory Coast and Senegal, say that these destructive, opaque fishing practices could endanger the food security of local populations and West Africa's entire fishing economy. Small-scale fishermen are seeing their hauls shrink and, along with that, their incomes. 

Some become so desperate that they decide to risk the dangerous sea migration routes in a desperate attempt to reach Europe.

Watch our complete investigation here