China vows to keep striking illegal activities in distant-water fisheries white paper
'Claims on soaring vessels, rampant IUU fishing all lies': experts
Published: Oct 24, 2023 09:10 PM
A large number of fishing boats and fishermen in the East China Sea return to Jinqing Port in Taizhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, on October 6, 2023, to escape Typhoon Koinu. That day, China's national observatory maintained a yellow alert for Koinu, the 14th typhoon of the year. Photo: VCG

A large number of fishing boats and fishermen in the East China Sea return to Jinqing Port in Taizhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, on October 6, 2023, to escape Typhoon Koinu.  Photo: VCG


China has zero tolerance for illegal distant-water fishing (DWF) and severely punishes relevant violations, said a white paper released by China's State Council Information Office on Tuesday.

Experts said the release of the white paper was quite timely as it presents China's unceasing efforts in supervising registered vessels to combat illegal fishing, controlling the scale of its DWF industry, protecting bycatch species, guaranteeing labor rights and promoting international cooperation. All these facts show that claims China has been expanding DWF vessels to the tens of thousands or that Chinese vessels engage in rampant illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are only groundless lies and shabby smears. 

Titled Development of China's Distant-Water Fisheries, the white paper highlights China's resolute action against illegal fishing, saying that since 2016, the country has revoked the qualifications of six DWF companies and suspended those of 22 companies, with total financial penalties exceeding 1 billion yuan ($137 million). 

According to the paper, China had 177 approved enterprises and 2,551 vessels in the DWF industry in 2022, which operated in the high seas of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, and the seas around Antarctica, as well as in the waters under the jurisdiction of cooperating countries. The total catch for the year was around 2.33 million tons.

To better manage and supervise Chinese DWF ships, no Chinese vessel is permitted to work before going through registration and examination procedures and getting the authority's approval, said the paper. Multiple government departments have strengthened the examination, approval, registration and decommissioning, and fishing licensing process by issuing standard format documents for these fishing vessels.

China also executes the world's strictest management measures and regulations to monitor and position distant-water fishing vessels. It has set up an inclusive DWF data collection framework, covering enterprise information, ship information, position monitoring, fishing logbook, transshipment of catches, national fisheries observers, port sampling, scientific survey and trial fishing. 

China has set up bilateral dialogue and negotiation mechanisms with Russia, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the US, Argentina, New Zealand, the EU and other countries and regions to combat illegal fishing. It has established communications with Indonesia, Panama, Peru and Ecuador covering bilateral fisheries cooperation, regional fisheries governance, the fight against illegal fishing, protection of bycatch species, and ecological and environmental conservation in key sea areas like the Galapagos Islands. 

China rigorously abides by the restrictions on the number and tonnage of fishing vessels. Its DWF sector remains stable from 2016 to 2020 and the number of DWF vessels will be controlled below 3,000 with their output within 2.3 million tons by 2025. In 2021, China said it will not increase squid jiggers nor expand its squid fleets on the high seas, as well as implemented an individual vessel quota program on Pacific saury.

While China has been controlling the scale of the DWF industry by limiting the number of vessels and total amount of fishing for sustainable use of fisheries resources, some Western politicians have continuously accused China of "deplorable" fishing practices. 

According to South China Morning Post, European parliament's fisheries panel is worried China's distant-water fleet has reached nearly 17,000 vessels.

"One of the biggest characteristics of China's DWF development in the past 10 years is that China is restricting industry scale to avoid a recession for the whole fishery industry. Some Western media reports have exaggerated the number of Chinese DWF vessels to exceed 10,000, which can be seen as selective blindness. They deliberately included some nearshore fishing vessels and unapproved vessels with Chinese characters on them," Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Navy Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"To be honest, in recent years, there have been continuous efforts to regulate such activities. For example, Chinese vessels are now required to report their location per hour, which is much stricter than international standards. And among the eight regional fisheries management organizations China has joined, including the Indian Ocean tuna International Commission, China has consistently ranked among the top performers," Lü Ming, office director of the Marine Strategy Think Tank Research Center at Shanghai Ocean University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Earlier in September, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its 2023 Report to Congress on Improving International Fisheries Management, in which the US designated China as one of the seven nations and entities for IUU fishing.

The concept of IUU fishing can be infinitely expanded, Chen pointed out. "For example, someone could say Chinese vessels conducted IUU fishing in waters in Latin America, West Africa or South Pacific without approval. But the truth is that China has the permission of local countries via bilateral agreements or treaties," Chen said.

To effectively protects sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, seabirds and related marine mammals, China prohibits large-scale driftnet fishing on the high seas. It refuses to approve the construction of any new pair trawlers or large-scale lighting purse seiners with cod-end that can have a destructive effect on fisheries resources. It actively develops and puts into use eco-friendly fishing boats, fishing gear, and fishing technology.