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Illegal Chinese Fishing Fueling Global Conflict

Posted August. 17, 2009 07:23,   


Lyle Goldstein, a professor of naval warfare studies at the Naval War College in Washington, has warned of the negative effects of illegal Chinese fishing worldwide in an article published in the magazine China Brief.

Urging attention on the problem, he also cited vital foreign policy and international security aspects to Chinese fishery development that cannot be neglected by U.S. policymakers.

○ The world’s largest fishery power

China is the world’s largest fishing power in catch volume, fishery equipment, and the number of fishermen.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, China in 2006 caught 17.1 million tons of fish and marine life, 2.44 times larger than its nearest competitor Peru (seven million tons) and more than the combined catch of the United States (4.9 million tons) and Japan (4.2 million tons).

Since China began organizing deep-sea fishing in the mid-1980s, its number of oceangoing fishing boats has grown to 2,000. They operate mostly in open seas and the exclusive economic zones of 35 countries.

China has the most fishing vessels in the world with around 300,000 and approximately eight million fishermen.

Chinese vessels are active not only in neighboring waters but also in all seven oceans. Their prime spot for catching fish is the East China Sea, followed by the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea.

China’s overfishing and illegal operations in certain waters, however, are fueling regional conflict.

○ Marine resource depletion and regional conflict

Most of all, Chinese overfishing is depleting marine resources. A Chinese study said the country’s neighboring seas are under heavy strain due to overfishing.

For instance, the number of fish species in waters off Beibuwan Bay near Hainan Island in the South China Sea has plummeted to 238 from 487 in the 1960s.

China’s illegal fishing has also triggered tension with other countries. Indonesia in June seized eight Chinese fishing vessels and detained 75 Chinese fishermen for illegally fishing in Indonesian waters.

Korea this year has seized some 150 Chinese fishing vessels for illegal fishing. Around 400 to 600 such boats are seized by Korea every year for the same offense.

Fears are rising that such illegal fishing will aggravate sovereignty disputes with China’s neighbors. As Chinese fishing vessels step up operations in waters near the Paracel Islands, which China and Vietnam both claim to, Vietnamese media blame China for a decline in Vietnamese fishermen’s income.

Both countries frequently seize fishing vessels of the other nation for illegal fishing.

○ Aggravation of Africa’s food crisis

Illegal Chinese fishing is also making its effect felt outside of China’s neighboring waters. Some 300 Chinese vessels fish in waters off Africa’s west coasts.

Instead of catching high-end fish like bluefin tuna, they catch smaller species like mackerel, the main source of income for small-scale African fishermen with lower fishing skills.

This has led to criticism of Chinese fishing vessels for worsening Africa’s food crisis and threatening the livelihood of poor African fishermen.

Others blame the emergence of pirates in Somali waters on the depletion of fish caused by Chinese overfishing.

Faced with intensifying global criticism, the Chinese government began cracking down on illegal fishing in 2000 by reducing the number of both fishermen and fishing fleets and implementing a no-fishing season. This effort has produced no tangible results, however.