Illegal fishing and China

I’ve written before about how wildlife crime is a big issue in China and recently it has become a major political issue. China happens to be very strict on illegal fishing in its own waters, with military patrols and a “maritime militia” of fishing vessels which confront foreign vessels in a maritime version of guerrilla warfare.

Neighbouring Indonesia has an extremely strict policy on overfishing and on boats conducting illegal fishing in its waters which resulted in the sinking of 41 fishing boats, many which were Chinese. The crews of these vessels were removed so it was more show of force than an act of violence. Despite this another 14 vessels of a variety of nationalities were sunk this week for illegal fishing so it’s not clear if this is actually having any effect. One would assume that removing the boats will have an impact but every boat removed means more for the remaining boats. In an industry fuelled by greed this may been seen as an opportunity.


Arguably, the more worrying issues are that the Chinese government is very unhappy with the sinking of their vessels and many Chinese vessels are fishing illegally in other areas. One of their main targets is the waters of West Africa. Due to the Ebola problems this area has not been fished as vigorously as normal and so foreign ships, particularly the Chinese, are exploiting the waters in countries that are too poor to mount the defences offered by Indonesia. I realise that crime is immoral, but exploiting a country battling mass mortality seems to be a special kind of immorality. Not to mention the possible risk of catching and spreading Ebola.

This is not a few ships either, this is industrial level crime with crews forging documents and falsifying GPS readings to cover up what they are doing. Worse still is the fact that many of these ships belong to a government owned company called the “China National Fisheries Corporation” suggesting very lax supervision or just good old fashioned corruption.

No matter the cause, it seems clear that unless patrols are implemented in all major fishing areas then the ships will simply move to a new area and begin again. Using all the resources of an area and moving on is essentially the definition of a virus. It’s a tragic irony that as Africa rids itself of one virus another has moved into its seas and may be just as fatal in the long run.

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Scott Thomson
Recent ecology and conservation graduate. My blog is here
Scott Thomson

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