Wednesday, May 5, 2021

"China’s Fishing Fleet, the World’s Largest, Drives Beijing’s Global Ambitions"

From the Wall Street Journal, April 21:

Governments and conservation groups accuse the ships of fishing illegally and advancing military goals 

In Beijing’s push to become a maritime superpower, China’s fishing fleet has grown to become the world’s largest by far—and it has turned more aggressive, provoking tensions around the globe. 

The fleet brings in millions of tons of seafood a year to feed the country’s booming middle class. Foreign governments, fishermen and conservation groups have accused the fleet of illegal fishing, including by using banned equipment and venturing into other countries’ territory. That fishing has upended local economies and threatens ecosystems including around the Galápagos Islands, affected governments and fishermen say.

The Chinese fleet is helping the country stake out a bigger presence at sea, including by building a world-wide network of ports. The vessels, rigged with winches and booms and pulling giant nets, can be twice as large as a naval patrol boats, at an average of almost 200 feet long. Fishing crews have helped establish island settlements in waters subject to territorial disputes with neighbors. 

An analysis of transponder and global vessel registration data indicates Chinese boats involved in distant-water operations—meaning outside a country’s own territorial waters—total as many as 17,000, according to London-based researcher Overseas Development Institute. Official data and analyst estimates indicate China’s closest competitors in the industry, Taiwan and South Korea, have some 2,500 such vessels combined. 

China’s foreign ministry said that legally registered vessels were far lower, at 2,701 as of 2019. China agreed to cap its fishing vessels at 3,000 in 2017, in response to World Trade Organization efforts to cut government subsidies that contribute to overfishing.

The ministry said that Beijing implements the world’s strictest oversight on distant-water fishing. It has toughened legal penalties on errant fishing in recent years.

Ecuador and Peru placed their navies on alert last year to track hundreds of Chinese trawlers massing near South American fisheries. In Asia, governments and the fishing industry have complained of hundreds of Chinese incursions in their domestic waters. Indonesia has taken to periodically detonating seized Chinese trawlers in hopes it will deter other Chinese boats from poaching in its waters.

From 2010 to 2019, Chinese-flagged or owned vessels accounted for 21% of global fishing offenses logged by Spyglass, a Vancouver-based fishing crime database, up from 16% the previous decade. A 2019 global ranking by Geneva-based Global Initiative, a transnational crime watchdog, placed China first in the prevalence of illegal fishing by nations.

In the West African nation of Ghana, fishermen say that dozens of Chinese trawlers, equipped to fish at all depths, are venturing daily from their deep-sea license remits into Ghana’s sovereign waters, targeting shallow-dwelling fish that used to be a local preserve.

“Because the trawlers have depleted our fish stocks at a very fast rate, we all owe debts, and it has made our life extremely difficult,” said Kojo Panyin, a 53-year-old fisherman in Axim, a Ghanaian fishing village. Such fishing also destroys the nets of local fisherman, he said.....