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China has fished itself out of its own waters, so Chinese fishermen are now sticking their rods in other nations’ seas

China has fished itself out of its own waters, so Chinese fishermen are now sticking their rods in other nations’ seas

The growth of China’s middle class over the past 15 years or so has driven up demand for all sorts of luxury goods in the country. For example, there’s been a growing interest in high-quality seafood—which comes at a most inopportune time.

Efforts to boost China’s marine economy in recent decades, including offshore drilling and unsustainable fishing practices like trawling, has resulted in a dramatic depletion of its own fishing stock. Efforts have been made in response to this environmental damage: Since the 1990s, Beijing has implemented an annual summer moratorium on fishing in the South China Sea, and agriculture minister Han Changfu recently announced plans to cut back on the size of the world’s largest fishing fleet to protect its stocks. (China’s Ministry of Agriculture did not respond to a request for comment.)

But in order to sate its population’s rising desire for nice pieces of fish—and to continue exporting seafood abroad to trading nations—the Middle Kingdom’s fishing vessels have resorted to catch throughout the high seas (i.e., international waters) and, possibly through illegal practices, in other countries’ coastal domains.

In 2016, a number of Chinese fishing vessels were shot at for fishing in other nations’ exclusive economic zones, areas of water off countries’ coastlines where those countries have sole rights to pursue economic activity. In March 2016, Argentinian patrol units sank the Chinese fishing boat Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010 as it attempted to flee into international waters after allegedly trawling illegally off the coast of the Argentinian city Puerto Madryn. Recently, in light of illegal Chinese vessels draining the supply of fish, Somali fishermen have turned to piracy. And in November 2016, members of the South Korean coast guard opened fire on two Chinese fishing vessels that had threatened to ram patrol boats in the Yellow Sea near Incheon—not a month after Chinese fishermen rammed and sank a South Korean speedboat in the same area.

Reporters have drawn connections between the string of South Korean skirmishes and political tension around the South China Sea (China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia all have claims over parts of this body of water). But it’s also clear Chinese fishermen are desperate for new sources of fresh catch. Within China’s own exclusive economic zone, the nation has lost “one-half of its coastal wetlands, 57% of mangroves, and 80% of coral reefs, most of which are critical spawning, nursing, or feeding grounds for fish,” according to a 2016 study undertaken by a team of international experts.

That’s thanks to trawling, a practice in which fishermen drag long nets along the ocean floor and kill practically any living thing in their path. In addition to destroying coral reefs and the habitats necessary for healthy ocean wildlife populations, fishermen discard the bycatch, the sea creatures accidentally trapped in theirs nets. This unintended catch can include endangered species like sea turtles, as well as “trash fish,” species of edible fish that many in China (and in other countries) do not want to eat. (Some Chinese fishermen try to turn a profit off their bycatch, trading trash fish to West African citizens in exchange for labor or selling them to fish meal processors in China; sea turtles, on the other hand, can be sold on the black market in the mainland.)

Many nations have taken steps to impede bottom trawling, largely because it is a disaster for marine ecosystems. For example, Chile permanently banned this fishing method in 2015, while other countries like Indonesia have imposed limited bans.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) the world’s commercial fish stocks that exist at biologically sustainable levels has declined from 90% in 1974 to 68.6% in 2013. In other words, nearly one-third of global commercial fish stocks are already being overfished.

Read more here: https://qz.com/948980/china-has-fished-itself-out-of-its-own-waters-so-chinese-fishermen-are-now-sticking-their-rods-in-other-nations-seas/

 

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