The report of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Improving International Fisheries Management 2023, singles out China for its involvement in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
“We are facing an insatiable and predatory nation in the world’s seas,” Euclides Tapia, professor of International Relations at the University of Panama, told Diálogo on October 2. “Its behavior causes more serious problems, exacerbating food shortages and marine pollution.”
This August 31 report is part of an ongoing effort to improve international fisheries management, promote the sustainability of marine resources, and ensure the integrity of the global seafood market. NOAA has been submitting this report to the U.S. Congress every two years since 2009.
IUU fishing is a global problem that jeopardizes the sustainability of fisheries, damages marine ecosystems, undermines economic security, depletes natural resources, and harms fishers and producers operating within the law, the report indicates.
NOAA also highlights growing concerns about overexploitation of shark stocks in international fisheries and the need for proper management. Countries and organizations without effective regulations threaten the sustainability of these shared resources.
In 2020, 2021, and 2022, China was singled out for violating, without taking the necessary corrective actions, conservation and management measures (CMMs) proposed by several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the report details.
In addition, the NGOs conducted interviews with crew members at the end of their contracts on Chinese fishing vessels in those years. These interviews, shared with NOAA, documented substantiated allegations of multiple violations by Chinese vessels of marine conservation measures related to sharks and sea turtles.
Although these activities were not assessed through WCPFC, IATTC or ICCAT compliance procedures, they represent violations of the Regional Fisheries Organizations’ CMMs. As a result, NOAA singled out China for the operation of vessels involved in IUU fishing.
China said the U.S. report accusing Beijing of IUU fishing is just a “political manipulation,” which could undermine international fisheries cooperation. According to China, the report is baseless and does not reflect the reality of Chinese fishing activities, China Daily newspaper reported September 5.
“This seems to be their only strategy: to deny it. The problem is more complex, given that China operates a huge fleet dedicated to this activity,” Tapia said. “In addition, it uses tactics such as turning off lights and its geolocators to avoid detection or camouflaging its ships with flags of other countries to make direct accusations against it more difficult.”
In January 2023, the Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC), a network that includes civil society, governments, and global experts, highlighted that eight of the 10 companies responsible for 25 percent of IUU fishing are of Chinese origin. It also highlighted the lack of international requirements to disclose owner information when registering vessels or applying for fishing licenses.
Despite calls from the United States and the European Union to take action against the true owners of IUU vessels, there is still no solid framework to identify them. Vessel owners continue to operate with impunity, using complex structures and schemes to hide their identity.
The Chinese government has not only exhausted the resources of its own seas but is also exploiting distant shores such as the Philippines, the Galápagos Islands, Peru, and the region surrounding Argentina and Chile, The New York Times reported.
Currently, according to the World Economic Forum, nearly 90 percent of marine fish stocks worldwide are at maximum exploitation levels, overexploited or have been completely depleted.
“The Chinese fleet does not respect closures or any regulations. It moves to other continents with meticulous planning and a clear strategy: to fish illegally in foreign latitudes,” Tapia said. “They damage the economy and the livelihood of many coastal communities in Latin America.”
China’s growing economic power in Latin America limits complaints against its illegal activities. It also backs like-minded political movements to avoid questioning, making it difficult to protect resources and denounce the Chinese fleet’s illegal activities, Tapia added.
In 2022 Por La Pesca was launched, a partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development and a coalition of environmental NGOs, led by the Peru Society for Environmental Law (SPDA) and the Walton Family Foundation to combat IUU fishing and promote sustainability in artisanal fisheries in Ecuador and Peru, Share America reported.
International cooperation against illegal fishing, backed by reports such as NOAA’s, is an important step, but requires more decisive action: a multilateral effort that involves the affected countries so that they can unite and stop this problem that seriously harms their fishing fleets, due to the continued presence of the Chinese fleet in South American waters, Tapia concluded.