China’s role in (combatting) IUU-fishing

The effects of illegal fishing threaten economic and food security around the world and therefore pressure the economic stability of coastal nations. Solutions to these problems require international cooperation. That is why, in late October, over 3,000 leaders representing more than 70 countries and 200 nongovernmental organizations and private companies joined forces in Indonesia at the fifth Our Ocean Conference. Together they worked to tackle, among others, the challenge posed by IUU-fishing. 

While China is the largest producer of fish in the world, it was a no-show at this recent Conference. 

There are several existing international cooperation initiatives and treaties that aim to challenge IUU-fishing. Joining these would be a good step for China to ensure responsible fishing. An example is the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA). It would require China to meet port security requirements to prevent illegally caught fish from coming to market. 

China’s fishing industry is not limited to its own territory and waters however, and its responsibility should therefore also not be limited as such. Their distant water vessels are often accused of IUU-fishing. In South-America, Chinese deepwater fleets have routinely entered other countries’ EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zone) without authorisation, taking advantage of the limited patrol by the coastal states. Other times, the fishing itself was authorised, but the techniques used were illegal, endangered species were caught of quotas were exceeded. According to research by the Wilson Center, the actual catch could be up to 12 times the reported amount. 

While the Chinese vessels are not the only ones violating international rules on fishing, as the country with the largest fishing industry, they play an important role. Just as their lack of efforts on combatting IUU-fishing currently has a large negative impact, more initiative by China for their own vessels abroad and for port measures, could mean a large step in the right direction of combatting IUU-fishing. 

Source: Mark Godfrey, ‘China becoming an environmentalists at home, while plundering abroad’ (28 March 2018) via SeafoodSource website; Sally Yozell, ‘China must join the war on Illegal Fishing’ (30 November 2018) via IUU-watch website; Evan Ellis, ‘Chinese continue rampant fish poaching in Latin American waters’ (13 December 2018); Katie Lebling, ‘Fishing for Answers” Understanding Drivers and Environmental Impact of China’s Distant Water Fishing Fleets’ (Wilson Center, 2018).