Over the last two decades, China has built the world’s largest deep-water fishing fleet by far, with nearly 3,000 ships. Having severely depleted stocks in its own coastal waters, China now fishes in any ocean in the world, and on a scale that dwarfs some countries’ entire fleets near their own waters, reported The New York Times in a September 26, 2022 article.
Bloomberg calculates that the illegal fishing industry is worth up to $23.5 billion annually, with developing countries suffering the most losses according to a recent study published by the Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC), a global network of civil society, governments, and experts. The majority of companies that conduct illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing are connected to the Chinese state, according to FTC. The study reveals that the top 10 companies involved in IUU fishing are responsible for nearly a quarter of all reported cases and eight of the companies are from China.
A threat to millions
“Illegal fishing is a massive industry directly threatening the livelihoods of millions of people across the world, especially [those] living in poor coastal communities in developing countries already affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, and the impact of climate change,” said Matti Kohonen, one of the report’s authors and the executive director of the FTC, as reported by The Guardian.
In addition to the problems caused by food insecurity, Kohonen said developing countries lose billions of dollars in illicit money flows due to illegal fishing while “vessel owners continue operating with complete impunity, using complex company structures and other schemes to hide their identity and evade prosecution,” according to the same report by The Guardian.
The United Nations says that more than 90 percent of global fishery stocks are fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted. Africa is the most affected continent with Argentina and Chile being the two countries which suffer the biggest losses in Latin America. Experts at a recent panel discussion hosted by InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University in Washington, D.C. made it clear that the consequences of IUU fishing are immediate and enormous across the region. IUU fishing damages livelihoods and marine ecosystems while facilitating other crimes, such as labor abuse and drug trafficking. “The impact goes beyond the fishing industry,” said Matthew Taylor, a professor of international studies at American University who collaborated with InSight Crime on a recently published working paper on IUU fishing in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The U.S. Department of State (DoS) says that IUU fishing can take on many forms, ranging from small-scale vessels misreporting their catches or straying into a neighboring country’s waters, to coordinated efforts by transnational crime syndicates. IUU fishing can also undermine port and maritime security, as criminal elements may use similar trade routes, landing sites, and vessels to traffic arms, migrants, drugs, and other contraband, and it does not respect rules adopted at either the national or international level.
Keys to tackling IUU fishing include eliminating the economic incentives that drive it, ensuring that governments effectively monitor and control their fishing vessels, and building capacity in developing countries for fisheries management, enforcement, and good governance, says DoS.