China’s Fishing Fleet Is Vacuuming the Oceans

China's aim is to be present all over the world's oceans to direct the outcomes of international agreements that cover maritime resources.

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Gatestone Institute
  • “China’s leaders see distant water fleets as a way to project presence around the world. The aim is to be present all over the world’s oceans so that they can direct the outcomes of international agreements that cover maritime resources.” — Tabitha Mallory, CEO of China Ocean Institute and affiliate professor at the University of Washington, Axios, March 23, 2021.
  • In the past five years, more than 500 abandoned wooden fishing boats, often with skeletons of starved North Korean fishermen aboard, have washed up on the shores of Japan. For years the cause was unknown, until it was found out that the likely reason was that “an armada” of Chinese industrial boats fish illegally in North Korean waters…. It is estimated that China’s fishing vessels have depleted squid stocks in North Korean waters by 70%.
  • Most of the fishing vessels in China’s fleet are trawlers. “Fishing by trawling method sweeps out the seafloor in the south, and annihilates its resources,” a representative of the fishermen said.
  • In a number of West African countries — Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and others — Chinese trawlers have for years “taken advantage of poor governance, corruption and the inability of these governments to enforce fishing regulations” according to the China-Africa project. “Today, the Chinese vessels largely operate beyond government control, prompting an increasingly serious environmental crisis brought on from over-fishing that also endangers local coastal communities who depend on these waters for their livelihoods”. In July 2020, six Chinese super-trawlers arrived in Liberia, capable of capturing 12,000 tons of fish — nearly twice the nation’s sustainable catch.
  • In South America, Chinese predatory fishing is now so critical that in March, Argentina announced the creation of a Maritime Joint Command to combat the predatory fishing practices of foreign vessels.
  • The Chinese fishing fleet, however, is about much more than fishing. “Against the backdrop of China’s larger geo-political aspirations, the country’s commercial fishermen often serve as de-facto paramilitary personnel whose activities the Chinese government can frame as private actions”, stated an August 2020 report by Ian Urbina, published by the Yale School of the Environment. “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”.

By Judith Bergman

Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

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