“Illegal, unreported, and unregulated [IUU] fishing poses a potentially enduring threat to the security and well-being of the United States and its neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean,” the August report IUU Fishing Crimes in Latin America and the Caribbean of the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University in Washington, D.C., and investigative journalism organization InSight Crime, indicated.
According to the report, which analyzed the problem in nine countries of the region (Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama, Suriname, and Uruguay), China is among the major IUU fishing violators in these countries, with fishing vessels present both within their territorial waters, as well as the outer limits andwithin their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“China’s distant water fishing [DWF] is believed to significantly affect the environment and have a strong socio-economic impact on developing countries,” Miren Gutiérrez, a research associate at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an international think tank based in London, told Diálogo.
China, said Gutiérrez, has the world’s largest DWF fleet, with nearly 17,000 vessels, according to ODI’s 2020 survey, and added that this overcapacity implies a significant ecological export risk to developing countries’ territorial waters, despite increased regulations and restrictions worldwide. “While the fishing boom has benefited China, Chinese consumers, and Chinese companies, most of the social, environmental, and economic costs are borne by coastal developing states, which do not share equally in the benefits,”Gutiérrez said.
Hundreds of Chinese vessels operate in Latin America’s oceans year-round and have long been accused of plundering two main fishing grounds — the waters near Argentina in the South Atlantic and those near Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in the South Pacific, InSight Crime says. The number of Chinese vessels that plunder the waters off the coast of Latin America can be anywhere from 300 to more than 700, several international news media and organizations indicated.
Countries in the region have been mobilizing to combat IUU fishing. In early September for example, U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers of the 7th Bomb Wing supported the governments of Ecuador and Panama in operations against IUU fishing to detect illegal Chinese fishing boats and deter malign Chinese activities, military platform the War Zone reported.
The criminal practice is associated with several other offenses, such as slave labor, narcotrafficking, piracy, corruption, and marine pollution. The negative impact also falls on the economy of the affected countries, with losses reaching $2.3 billion annually, highlights the CLALS report.
In addition to turning their Automatic Identification System off, Chinese fishing vessels also display the flag of another country, known as flag of convenience, to attempt to circumvent inspections and the law in general. “The ownership and operational management of the Chinese DWF fleet is complex and opaque. Vessel ownership is highly fragmented among many small companies, and registration is done in different jurisdictions,”Gutiérrez said.
A major concern “is the treatment of crew members on board foreign ships near the EEZ [of countries of the region], especially those flying the Chinese flag. Although captains and officers of these ships are Chinese, there are credible reports of abuse and trafficking of crew members,” the report indicates.
“China has not adhered to a number of relevant international agreements and does not require high standards from its registered vessels,” Gutiérrez said.
In early April, U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command, urged countries of the region to intensify their crackdown on IUU fishing and halt Chinese expansion, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an international journalistic investigation organization that specializes in organized crime, reported. “These cross-cutting threats are too powerful, too overwhelming for one nation to handle on its own,” Gen. Richardson said, adding that responding to them requires working together.