Chinese Fishing Fleet Blamed For All Evils; EJF

China’s distant water fleet, which is considered the world’s largest, is alleged to be rife with human rights abuses and illegal fishing, targeting endangered and protected marine life across the world’s ocean, said a new report from the Environmental Justice Foundation   (EJF).

In the report, the authors claim that China’s state subsidies have allowed the grossly overcapacity fleet to exploit the waters of developing nations that rely on marine resources for livelihoods and food security.


•The China’s distant water fleet  (CDWF) has become a substantial presence in multiple developing countries. Over a third of the authorised CDWF operations in 2019 and 2020 covered 29 specific EEZs in Africa, Asia and South America. These regions are characterised by limited MCS capacity and coastal regions heavily dependent on fishing for both nutritional and livelihood needs.

• This gradual change in ownership structure to private hands has loosened the Chinese government’s control over the activities of Chinese fishing enterprises.

•The CDWF is frequently associated with illegal fishing. According to the data analysed fishing without a licence or authorisation is the most common recorded illegal fishing incident, constituting 42% of the total. Using prohibited gear and the capture of prohibited species are the next highest-ranking offences, at 11.5% and 10.3% respectively. The size of the fleet, coupled with the high instances of suspected IUU fishing, threatens continued socio-economic stability and inflicts ecological harm globally.

• Mauritania is where the presence of the CDWF is by far the most significant. Mauritania is a hub of the fishmeal and fish oil industry – which has reaped widespread ecological damage to both terrestrial and marine ecosystems including the decimation of locally important fish populations.

•  Africa stands out by its apparent importance for the activities of the CDWF. Many fish stocks in Africa are heavily exploited, a continuation of which would spell certain disaster for impoverished coastal dwelling communities.

• Bottom trawling, which is a common mode of fishing employed by Chinese trawlers, has significant ecological impacts including high levels of by-catch, the destruction of habitats and the associated release of carbon.

•China has put a clear emphasis on developing its capacity to target squid species in recent years: vessels equipped to target squid now represent more than two in three approved offshore fishery projects covering oceanic areas.

• Whilst data is limited, human rights abuses seem to be common amongst the CDWF, an issue that blights distant-water fishing more generally. Interviews conducted by EJF with 116 Indonesian crewmembers who have worked on vessels belonging to the CDWF indicate that 99% have experienced or witnessed wages being deducted or withheld, 97% have experienced some form of debt bondage/confiscation of guarantee money and documents, 89% have worked excessive overtime, 85% reported abusive working and living conditions, 70% experienced intimidation and threats, and 58% have seen or experienced physical violence.

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