Download the complete reportTHE ILLEGAL CHINESE FISHING FLEETS REPORT
China is consistently ranked at number 1 in the global list of 152 countries practicing Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Being an industrialized nation, China has been forcing its way into other poorer countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), forcing the local fishermen out of jobs and disrupting the local marine ecosystem. The worst hit is taken by countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
According to our report, about 20% of the global IUU catch comes from just six western African countries – Mauritania, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. There have been multiple incidents of Chinese incursions and conflicts with the local African fishermen.
Mauritania is suffering from Chinese incursions and aggressive fishing vessels since 2018. In 2020, three Mauritanian artisanal fishermen died when their boat was struck by a large Chinese Trawler. Despite being a smaller EEZ, it has been reported that the Chinese have spent over 2 million hours fishing.
In Senegal and Liberia, Chinese industrialized trawlers have been denied permission in 2019 which naturally decreased Chinese activities in the region. However, the incursions of the trawlers and conflicts with local fishermen have come to light.
In Cameroon, a sea area up to 3nm from the coast is reserved for artisanal and local fishermen. However, the local fishermen have accused Chinese trawlers of taking away all the catch including fingerlings and other fishes like ‘Awacha’, Mossubu, Trong Kanda, Crab, or Njenga, popular in Cameroon.
The Western Sahara region has seen a massive gain in fishing activity in the past three years. Most prominent fishing regions in the West of Africa (Mid-Atlantic Ocean) are depleting due to disproportionate fishing activity. Thus, China is veering its DWF to the North-West of Africa. In 2022, China fished for over a million hours in the Western Sahara EEZ. The European Union also has its fishing fleet in Western Sahara competing for fish with its Chinese counterparts. In the competition, the loser is always the local communities of Western Sahara.
In 2021, many Chinese trawlers were arrested after the Minister of Fisheries in Gabon declared a crackdown on Illegal Fishing by the Trawlers. Despite this, the presence of Chinese Trawlers at the land boundary of Gabon was seen all around the year 2022. In Ghana, a group of fishers called “Saiko” have become a source of transshipment and selling bycatch caught by Chinese trawlers to the local markets. In addition to illegal fishing, Chinese vessels are also engaged in smuggling fentanyl from China to Africa and wildlife products for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) from Africa to China.
In the Eastern African region, the activity of Chinese DWF vessels has been on the rise since 2016. It has been reported that these vessels often use flags of the countries they are fishing in to hide their identity. Moreover, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is also seen escorting the fishing vessels near the choke point of the Horn of Africa in the name of providing protection from pirates. Unlike the countries in western Africa, the government of Somalia has signed agreements with Chinese fishing companies to allow Chinese long liners and trawlers in Somali waters.
The island nations in East Africa like Seychelles, Mauritius, and Reunion have been permeated by Chinese long liners and squid jiggers. According to tracking data produced by OceanMind, between 2019 and 2021, 132 Chinese-flagged vessels operated in Madagascar’s EEZ, targeting the country’s inshore and offshore fisheries. Chinese investments in the country have seen a sharp rise since 2017. It was only after protests from local people that the government declared the Chinese trawling illegal, forcing them to move to Senegal.
South Africa is rich in marine life which attracts a large number of squid jiggers in the area. In April 2020, six Chinese trawlers were detected entering the South African EEZ after being ordered out of Namibian waters. These trawlers were then detained and issued with fines by the South African authorities as they failed to produce the required permission.
Issues faced due to the Chinese DWF in African waters
The continuous foray of Chinese DWF vessels has caused a ton of issues in African countries ranging from environmental degradation to unemployment of local people. One of those issues is the corruption of governments. Local government officials award excessive fishing permits or take bribes from the Chinese to allow them to continue illegal fishing in the area.
They avoid making arrests as they are afraid the Chinese would retract the development aid in retaliation. While the officials are busy making money, the local fishermen are struggling to make ends meet. There have been numerous protests by the locals against the livelihood crisis and environmental damage caused by the Chinese DWF vessels in Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Gambia, and Togo.
Because of heavy overfishing in the region, the African people are left with nothing to eat. 100 million people of Africa depend on the protein from small pelagic fishes like Sardinella that are fished by 330,000 local fishermen. As Chinese trawlers catch nothing less than 75% of the fish in the area, the local population is suffering from numerous deficiencies of essential minerals.
On top of that, many of the African fishers who are working onboard some of these trawlers have accused their Chinese managers of racial abuse. They’ve stated that they have been mistreated, abused, and even threatened to be pushed overboard. Many fishers have died onboard due to the mistreatment by the authorities.
Another concerning issue is that the Chinese vessels often use or rather misuse the flag of the countries they are fishing in. It was reported that Chinese vessels Yu Feng 1, 3, and 4 changed from Chinese flag to Ghanaian flag as soon as they entered Ghana’s territory. They fish under the host country’s flag as it protects them from local laws and getting caught by the AIS (Automatic Identification System) as well.
The dubious practices by Chinese DWF have long affected the marine environment across the globe, polluting air, water, and land alike and destroying coral reefs. The corrupt practices by the Chinese and the local governments have wreaked havoc on innocent, hard-working citizens who are starved, racially abused, and mistreated on every occasion. While the Chinese continue to exploit an entire continent, the governments of these countries are busy filling their pockets on the grave of their own citizens. It is imperative that China is held accountable for its unlawful actions and its blatant disregard for laws laid down to protect marine and human lives.