Reeling In China's Unregulated Fishing Practices

New Wave Media

November 22, 2013

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credit AFP

As the need for ocean-based protein sources grows more and more every year, so does the need to regulate the fisheries where these protein sources come from.

A study published earlier this year by a group of researchers from the University of British Columbia reported that China may be grossly underreporting the amount of fish caught in what's known as "distant water fishing" practices, i.e. fishing that occurs over 200 nautical miles offshore from the country's border, an area known as a country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This presents an issue for the global community as it attempts to gather accurate numbers on how much fish is left.

Last month, the South Korean government reported that in the first nine months of this year, 266 Chinese boats were punished or fined for fishing within South Korea's EEZ. This number pales in comparison to the 4,600 unlicensed Chinese vessels apprehended in just the last decade alone. In addition to the vessels apprehended, South Korea also maintains that 69 officials have died just in the struggle to police their waters. 

But what about countries that don't have the manpower to patrol their waters? 

In the report by the researchers from the University of British Columbia, it's estimated that Chinese fishing vessels have been reported in 93 other countries' EEZs. Much of the fishing effort has been focused on the coast of West Africa where it's estimated that over 2.9 million tons of catch is taken, worth over $7.15 billion. For Chinese distant water trawlers, these countries present an easy target as many of their respective governments do not have the power to enforce their territorial waters. 

As it stands now, China is the world's second largest subsidizer of it's fishing industry. With over 1.3 billion mouths to feed, it seems unlikely that any pressure will come from Chinese officials to crack down on their fishing practices.

The solution to this epidemic may be an international initiative to use sateliite technology to track distant water fishing vessels. 

In June 2013, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) initiated a pilot program that placed AIS responders on Fiji's tuna fishing vessels in an effort to increase transparency within the industry. With AIS transponders, WWF and the country of Fiji hopes to monitor regions where fishing vessels concentrate their fishing effort and to dissuade these vessels from entering "no-take" areas. 

The need to monitor the Chinese fishing industry needs to happen sooner than ever as the country is expected to increase it's distant water fishing fleet to over 2,300 vessels by 2015.