Chinese fish poaching is state organized and global

Chinese fish poaching is state organized and global, by James Dunnigan.

China has the largest illegal fishing operation in the world and is a major poacher in foreign waters from Southeast Asia to Africa and South America. The Chinese subsidize several thousand fishing ships to make this poacher fleet profitable and, at least in the South China Sea and other nearby waters, will send warships (heavily armed “coast guard” vessels) to intimidate local fishing patrol boats to back off. …

Some other nations (like South Korea and Spain) also have trawlers showing up in areas where a lot of poaching goes on. But the vast majority of these poachers are Chinese. Two of the frequent victims, Indonesia and Argentina, have responded aggressively since 2016 and the Chinese replied by declaring that it was legal for Chinese trawlers to go whatever they wanted in “traditional Chinese fishing areas.” That is a fiction China began using after several embarrassing clashes off Indonesia and Argentina in 2016 and since then the Chinese trawlers have been less aggressive in these distant waters. …

The trawlers involved in these incidents are formally called “freezer trawlers.” These ships are up to 100 meters (320 feet) long and have facilities on board to store hundreds of tons of frozen fish. These ships normally stay at sea months at a time and have crews of 14-30. The number of Chinese trawlers has expanded enormously since 1985 (when there were 13) and there are currently over 2,500 of them operating worldwide. …

Indonesia … , since 2016, has been unofficially, but very visibly, at war with foreign trawlers caught engaging in illegal fishing. This poaching has been going on with increasing frequency since the 1990s and Indonesia was a frequent victim because it was relatively close to China. Many of the nation’s being victimized compared notes, did the math and noted that the most frequent offenders are Chinese ships. These are either Chinese owned fishing ships or ships from other countries that register themselves as Chinese to gain a measure of immunity from being stopped or punished by the nations being plundered. But some nations are not just complaining, they are fighting back.

In the case of Indonesia the fighting back consists of shooting at poachers and, since 2014, destroying (via explosives or burning) over 200 ships used by poachers. Indonesia calculates that this poaching costs Indonesia over $2 billion a year and that China’s worldwide poaching operation brings in over $20 billion a year. Since China does not officially admit it is organizing and controlling this, and the Indonesians are using large warships with orders to fire on any poacher caught and refusing to surrender, the Chinese are taking most of the losses off Indonesia. For a while China sent warships to accompany flotillas (often ten or more ocean going fishing ships) and protect the poachers if caught and keep the police or coast guard boats busy while the poachers escaped. But Indonesia responded by sending out warships (corvettes and frigates) with orders to fire on any foreign warships caught with the poachers. China stopped sending warships but the poachers kept on coming and Indonesia keeps capturing and prosecuting the crews. The poacher ships are often destroyed as media events, with local news being allowed to capture and broadcast videos of the fires and explosions. In desperation Chinese declared the fishing areas poached as “traditional Chinese fishing areas” and not subject to modern legalities about “Economic Zones.” No one supported Chinese “traditional fishing areas” defense, nor did international law.