Chinese firms responsible for illegal fishing globally, study says

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Eight of the 10 companies responsible for nearly a quarter of known illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing hail from China, fueling an industry that costs countries billions of dollars in lost revenue annually, according to a report.

The Boston-based Financial Transparency Coalition identified Nasdaq-listed Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd. at the top of a list of state-linked firms with the most number of IUU fishing vessels. The company is one of the largest US-listed marine services companies operating in China, it said.

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China has by far the largest distant water fleet in the world with at least 3,000 vessels, some of which have been spotted off the coasts of Africa and as far as Ecuador. This has raised concerns of overfishing at a time when global fish stocks are plummeting.
“It’s their strategy of establishing themselves as a big fishing power,” said Matti Kohonen, executive director of the FTC. “Then they end up breaking a lot of fishing laws by doing that. To be a responsible power you need to crack this problem down.”

Pingtan Marine did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

IUU fishing is a key reason 90 percent of global fisheries stocks are overexploited or depleted as part of illegal activity worth up to $23.5 billion annually. Developing countries are especially vulnerable with Africa losing up to $11.2 billion a year, while Argentina loses $2 billion alone, the FTC report found.

The report said that 48.9 percent of identified industrial and semi-industrial vessels involved in IUU fishing are concentrated in Africa, while West Africa has become the global epicenter. Fishing vessels flagged to Asia represent 54.7 percent of all reported IUU fishing by such vessels.

Illegal fishing has also become another flash point in the deepening rivalry between the US and China. President Joe Biden in June signed a National Security Memorandum to address the issue saying IUU fishing is among the “greatest threats to ocean health and is a significant cause of global overfishing,” though it did not specifically mention China.

For China, it’s about “access to fishing waters, supplying fish for a growing market of consumers who increasingly eat both meat and fish, said Kohonen. “They break some of the fishing laws because the controls are not there. They don’t have enough Coast Guard capabilities in West Africa, so it’s quite easy.”

Read more: Ecuador navy monitoring huge Chinese fishing fleet near Galapagos

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