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Why China’s Promise To Crackdown On Illegal Fishing Is Doubtful

In recent years, there have been alleged reports of unsustainable and illegal fishing activities by Chinese fishing fleets outside Chinese waters. From North Korea to West Africa, China’s distant fishing fleets have been accused of “worsening food security for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, through illegal fishing activities. Even though the Chinese government has promised to crack down on the said illegal fishing, some policy analysts still have doubts. 

The Chinese government, through some domestic policies, has indicated its willingness to curtail the growing fleet of its motorized overseas fishing vessels that have supposedly become “notorious for engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, in violation of international laws and agreements.

Some figures have it that between 1979 and 2013, China’s fleet of motorized fishing vessels grew from 55,225 to 694,905. The government has now launched a 100-day crackdown on illegal fishing that has so far netted 1,674 boats and more than 220,000 pounds of illicit fish. By some other calculations, China has anywhere from 200,000 to 800,000 fishing boats, accounting for nearly half of the world’s fishing activity. 

According to a Bloomberg report, “China has become a major player in distant-water fishing or the exploitation of fisheries beyond a country’s national waters. Since 1950, the world’s total fished area has expanded from 60% to 90% of the oceans. China is by far the leading country in this practice, with a fleet that was recently estimated at nearly 17,000 vessels, though its true scale remains a mystery — likely even to the Chinese government itself.”

Why The Doubt? 

China’s effort at restraining its fishing fleets at home alone has been likened to “only scratching the surface of a global problem for China. Because beyond its own rivers and seas, China’s distant fishing fleets are the leading actor in an unsustainable illegal trade that’s emptying fisheries from North Korea to West Africa.” 

Although China has made few efforts to restrain this illegal trade, it is believed that Beijing in some cases has encouraged it. In doing so, it has undermined its own claims to be a champion for emerging markets while worsening food security for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Ian Urbina equally argued in an article that, “against the backdrop of China’s larger geopolitical aspirations, the country’s commercial fishermen often serve as de-facto paramilitary personnel whose activities the Chinese government can frame as private actions. Under a civilian guise, this ostensibly private armada helps assert territorial domination, especially pushing back fishermen or governments that challenge China’s sovereignty claims that encompass nearly all of the South China Sea.”

In an article, Adam Minter opined that “a better option for everyone involved is a concerted effort by the Chinese government to regulate its fishing fleet away from home. An important first step would be to roll back the subsidies that incentivize overfishing while imposing penalties for vessels that disable their identification systems. Such transparency would help to better understand the scale of the problem, and to trace it to its source. Ultimately, that should ratchet down the geopolitical tensions over unsustainable harvests, and help ensure that there’s enough fish in the sea for everyone.”

It was revealed in a SeafoodSource publication that China’s distant-water fishing fleet is vastly larger than previous estimates that Chinese government data suggested. The fleet is 16,966 vessels in size, according to research by the Overseas Development Institute. That’s much larger than the Chinese government’s own estimate of around 3,000 vessels – a level at which it has promised to cap its distant-water fleet. By contrast, the E.U. claims to have 289 vessels in its distant-water fleet and the United States operates 225 vessels operating beyond its exclusive economic zone.

Of the overall figure calculated by the ODI for China’s fleet, some 1,821 are trawlers – many of them operating bottom-trawling methods. Meanwhile, 1,000 are registered in other states, with 581 registered in Africa. However, the greatest number of Chinese vessels operate in the northwest Pacific, the southeast Pacific, and the southwest Atlantic, in particular off the coast of Argentina and Peru, fishing for squid.

Which effective ways can African countries protect their aquaculture from the alleged increasing illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers, while maintaining cordial relations with Beijing?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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