The Strategist

Not enough fish in the sea: China is depleting the planet's fish resources

12/11/2017 - 14:46

The gigantic scale of Chinese fishing has long looked alarming to environmentalists who are concerned with safety of the aquatic bioresources of the planet. China is the largest fishing power in the world, both in terms of fleet sizes and fishing volumes.

If we count small ships in (there are hundreds of thousands of them), the size of the Chinese fishing fleet is several times higher than that of the European Union.

Having harvested over the 70 million tons of fish in 2012, China repeatedly bypassed its closest rivals - Indonesia (15.4 million tons), the United States (5.5 million tons) and Russia (4.5 million tons). These numbers are approximate, since they do not take into account illegal catches, but they give an idea of the global scale of Chinese "overfishing", that is, unregulated fishing. Fishing is a huge business; China derives tens of billions of dollars a year from it. Chinese fishermen navigate not only Chinese, but also foreign waters; often they do it illegally. Fishing is often carried out in extensive and barbaric ways, with the use of explosives, poisoning substances, as well as deep trawls, which destroy, in particular, the seabed and coral reefs. According to Greenpeace’s estimates, there are over two thousand fishing vessels from China in the waters of the World Ocean. They are continuously catching, being at the same time the floating factories for the processing and freezing of fish. Greenpeace accuses the Chinese leadership that it has set fishing quotas for its territorial waters, while predatory fishing in other areas of the sea is reaching "crazy" scales. According to FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the stock of main commercial fish in the World Ocean has declined by 30% in recent years, with number of large and adult species declining. At the same time, the share of small and young fish has grown, which will have catastrophic consequences for world fishing.

Recently, China has developed extraordinary activity in resource-rich regions: the South China Sea, off the coast of West Africa and Latin America. What's happening in these regions is denoted as illegal, unregulated and undocumented fishing. The vessels are fishing without a license in prohibited areas. Chinese pirate fishing has reached such a level that the European Commission has to intervene and demanded that Beijing be put under strict control of fishing.

The main "pirate" is the largest state-owned corporation China National Fisheries. Its fleet accounts for a third of all cases of illegal fishing off the coast of West Africa. The official Beijing is providing all support to this monopolist, having allocated fuel subsidies of $ 431 million in 2011. Private fishing companies such as Ningtai Ocean, which has over 60 long-distance vessels, are also doing fine. It is the Chinese state subsidies for diesel, according to Greenpeace, that allows them to function year-round.

The fact that Chinese fishermen have rushed to fish to distant shores is understandable, as the fish resources in the rivers and coastal zone of China are practically exhausted. And the country with such a large population needs proteins: in 2015, China accounted for 35% of world consumption of fish.

Once the fish were considered expensive in China, but as the welfare grew, consumption rapidly climbed up. To date, China is not only the largest consumer, but also an exporter of seafood. From 1979 to 2013, the Chinese fishing fleet grew from 55 to 700 thousand motorized vessels, and the number of workers in the fishing industry - from 2.25 to 14 with more than million. Today the fishing industry generates over $ 260 billion a year, which is about 2.5% of China's GDP.

The world press is increasingly reporting about expansion of Chinese fishing fleets in the remote waters of the World Ocean. It is noted that both Chinese fishing companies and the state are to blame for the barbaric exploitation of the world's oceans. The state actively subsidizes the industry (6.5 billion dollars in 2013), encouraging fishing from foreign shores.

Recently, China has been producing two thirds of foreign fish catches in African waters, which endangers aquatic resources in the region. Thus, over the past 20 years, the population of perch on the coast of West Africa has declined by 80%. There were 13 Chinese ships in 1985, but now there are more than five hundred. The Chinese simply "kill" African fishing, which is not able to compete with them. Chinese fishing trawlers, illegally navigating the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, have almost completely exhausted the population of the yellow croakers, which is considered to be extremely good fish in Asia. In this regard, the countries of Africa began to unite efforts in the fight against Chinese fishing expansion: 24 African countries have sent a joint petition to Beijing to stop fishing off the coast of Africa. Antarctica is the next stop for Chinese anglers, where they intend to deploy a large catch of krill - small sea bass, which are the basis of food for fish, whales and penguins. This can disrupt the whole food chain of the water area. 

However, the main area of fishing conflicts is the South China Sea, which is extremely rich in fishery resources, and is actively exploited by fishermen from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries. The leadership of the People's Republic of China declared "historic rights" on 80% of the water area of the South China Sea, referring to maps of the last century. This statement was categorically opposed by other countries of the region, primarily Vietnam and the Philippines. The Hague Court satisfied the Philippine lawsuit last year and rejected the "demarcation line" that China has drawn in the South China Sea. However, geopolitical tension is not going down. According to some analysts, it is fish resources, not oil deposits, which are the main stimulus for the expansion of the PRC in the South China Sea.

Recently, in light of the negative reaction of the world community, China has made small concessions and has begun negotiations with the states of South-East Asia, both bilaterally and multilaterally. Also in view of international criticism, China has promised to cut its fishing fleets by 20,000 units, including 8,000 large vessels. However, according to some estimates, the total number of Chinese fishing vessels may range from 700,000 to 2 million units, and the planned reduction is only a drop in the sea. At the same time, China has promised to sharply reduce the catch of fish in its coastal waters, but this does not apply to fishing in other parts of the World Ocean.