IUU Fishing: “J’accuse!” – China Accused Of Grossly Underreporting Its Catches


China has been accused of partaking in Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by significantly under-reporting catches.

An article by Christopher Pala that Appears in Both Nature and Scientific American reports under-reported overfishing and excessive catches by Chinese vessels:

According to The Vancouver Sun:

China is grossly under-reporting its harvest of fish outside its territorial waters, a University of B.C.-led study suggests.

The study, published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, estimates the Chinese foreign fleet catches 12 times more than reported to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, an international agency that keeps track of global fisheries catches.

Catch levels are critical when determining sustainable catch limits and are an important indicator of the state of the ocean. The catch is estimated at $11.5 billion US or 4.6 million tonnes per year.

China Asia Typhoon

Haikou, China — A boat sails past docked ships at a port in Haikou, in south China’s Hainan province
(see: LA Times. The Week in Pictures | Oct. 18-24, 2010 | Photo Associated Press
http://framework.latimes.com/2010/10/20/pictures-in-the-news-47/#/14 )

Pala writes:

Fisheries experts have long suspected that the catches reported by China to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome are too low.From 2000 to 2011, the country reported an average overseas catch of 368,000 tons a year. Yet China claims to have the world’s biggest distant-water fishing fleet, implying a much larger haul, says the study, which was funded by the European Union (EU).”

Daniel Pauly (fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who led the study) estimates that the average catch for 2000–11 was in fact 4.6 million tons a year, more than 12 times the reported figure (see ‘A colossal catch’). Of that total, 2.9 million tons a year came from West Africa, one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds.

The Vancouver Sun highlighted Daniel Pauly’s involvement in a study in 2001 that accused China of grossly misleading the United Nations for more than a decade about the state of its fisheries, effectively masking a steady decline in the world’s fish stocks.

According to Pauly

Chinese fishing vessels are taking a huge unreported global catch, fisheries researchers have found. Instead of an average 368,000 tons a year that China reported to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, its fleets hauled in as much as 4.6 million tons.”

This catch is taken from the waters of at least 90 countries, including 3.1 million tonnes from African waters, mainly West Africa. Pauly argues that this unreported catch is crippling the artisanal fisheries that help to feed West African populations.

He continues:

We need to know how many fish have been taken from the ocean in order to figure out what we can catch in the future […] Countries need to realize the importance of accurately recording and reporting their catches and step up to the plate, or there will be no fish left for our children. 

The problem is particularly acute in the rich fisheries of West Africa, where a lack of transparency in reporting is threatening efforts to evaluate the ecological health of the waters.

Local fishermen in West Africa are struggling with reduced catches.
Photo: Godong/ Robert Harding World Imagery/ Corbis

Pala quotes Didier Gascuel (from European University of Brittany in Rennes, France, and member of the scientific committee that advises Mauritania and the EU on fishing agreements):

So that’s where my fish were going! Year after year, Mauritanian populations of bottom-dwelling species such as octopus, grouper and sea bream have remained stubbornly low — a sign of over­fishing. We had no idea the Chinese catch was so big and of course we never included it our models

This tendency to be secretive was also acknowledged by Reg Watson & Daniel Pauly who in an article in the Journal of Fish and Fisheries (Coastal catch transects as a tool for studying global fisheries)

Chinese distant-water fisheries have become globally important economic actors. Unfortunately what did not improve in the transition to the 21st century … is the tendency towards secrecy in fisheries data.”

According to Scientific American:

The fishing contracts between Chinese companies and African nations are secret, so to estimate the catch […] The picture was further clouded because Chinese companies sometimes operate vessels flying local flags. So at least ten researchers combined clues from field interviews, scholarly articles and newspaper and online reports in 14 languages to estimate how many Chinese fishing vessels were operating in 93 countries and territories.

The group assembled their own database to calculate that China operated a far-seas fisheries fleet of at least 900 vessels to capture $11 billion worth of fish a year.

They found many in nations where China reported no catch. The estimates were averaged to reach their conclusion: China had at least 900 ocean-going vessels, with 345 in West Africa, including 256 bottom-trawlers.


The logo of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

According to Atuna:

The study also found that China was taking 198,000 tons of fish a year out of Oceania. This is much greater than its reported western Pacific catch, almost exclusively of tuna, of 105,000 tons in 2011. China has rapidly expanded into Pacific fisheries, with 241 China-flagged vessels approved to fish by the Forum Fisheries Agency.

According to Nature, the Pauly and colleagues’ report has been criticized by Richard Grainger, chief of the fisheries statistics and information service with the FAO, who knows the number of catches reported from China is too low but he still feels the figures in the UBC study are “highly unlikely:’’

The new estimates seem far, far too high2 estimated the total unreported catch in West Africa (by all nations) at 300,000–560,000 tonnes a year.” (see Agnew, D. J. et al. (2009) Estimating the Worldwide Extent of Illegal Fishing PLoS ONE 4)

But China’s director of International Co-operation at the Bureau of Fisheries, Xiaobing Liu, confirmed last year it took 1.15 million tons, three times the FAO figure, in a speech to the EU last June.

What do the Netizens think?

I have included for your information a few of the of comments from the Reddit.com page China has been under-reporting its fish catch since 2000. Actual overseas fish take estimated at 12x reported values. West African fisheries are most exploited:

(From Hammerschlagen)

“I work as a mate (deck/navigational officer) on container ships for a living. The Chinese fishing fleets are absofuckinglutely ridiculous. These fleets are massive. Hundreds… thousands of fishing boats as far as the eye can see. It looks like a city lit up at night for miles and miles. Imagine trying to navigate a 700 foot long ship through that mess doing 20+ kts (about 25 mph… pretty effing fast for a huge ship). Here are a few pictures I took of the radar screen and from our ECDIS (electronic chart/map). All the blips and green triangles pointed upward are fishing boats”. http://i.imgur.com/rHbUV1H.jpg http://i.imgur.com/9gXHJlY.jpg

(From Frankeh)

Just a reminder that China makes up just over 1/7th of the entire earths population. It’s hard not to ruin shit when that’s a statistic you’re the owner of.

(From blipped)

They are engaging in destructive behavior because of demand. Most of these are poor people trying to make a living. You would likely do the same if you were in their shoes. Now, if people like you and me and all the others in the western world that demand it were to say demand sustainably raised and responsibly harvested fish then they’d do that instead. We make the world with our purchases every day. You want change, start buying it and encouraging others to do the same.

(From Hammerschlagen)

From my observation, this seems to go on 24/7/365. Our ship pulled in to Chinese ports once every 35 days for about 4 months and the fishing traffic was this bad every, single, time. I don’t see how there can be any fish left to catch…

NTM that the conditions which these fishermen are subject to… Some of these junks are like mother ships which put out a smaller fleet of skiffs (2 man boats) with our without an outboard motor. So these guys will be drifting about fishing, most of the time, in inclement weather (relative to how small their skiff is). AND they are fishing within a major shipping lane. We came so close to one of these skiffs one time I went out on the bridge wing of my ship and looked down (we are about 70+ feet above the water) and these guys were maybe 20 feet off my starboard side. They looked up at me and held up this big fish and gave me a thumbs up. Maybe they have become so desensitized to almost being hit by huge ships it doesn’t even phase them anymore. The only reason I allowed my ship to steam so close to them in the first place is because there are a ton of other huge ships in close proximity and making erratic course changes to dodge these small skiffs would cause a risk of collision with another cargo ship. 

At last count there were 3095 comments… Worth a look for you who are interested…


2 thoughts on “IUU Fishing: “J’accuse!” – China Accused Of Grossly Underreporting Its Catches

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