12 March 2018

Illegal Fishing Leads to Piracy of Container Ships and Other Merchant Vessels  

Greenpeace Action Prompts Chinese Government Acts to Stop Criminals

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Shipping News Feature AFRICA – CHINA – WORLDWIDE – It is an undisputed fact that one of the main drivers of piracy off the Somalian coastline was overfishing by foreign boats which drove native fisherman, employing much simpler and traditional small scale methods, to the brink of poverty. It is no coincidence that the huge naval force employed against the would-be hijackers of container ships and other merchant vessels, are up against small fishing skiffs now plying a much different trade.

Thus it is that, at a time when overfishing around the globe is a bone of contention, particularly as different cultures view harvesting from the sea in completely different lights, whale hunting for example is still viewed as acceptable by many in countries like Japan whilst vilified by the world at large. Now the Chinese government has stepped in after being presented with irrefutable evidence of some of its fleet fishing illegally off the West African coastline.

Last spring, vessels from three Chinese companies were arrested in the West African region during a joint patrol between Greenpeace and local fisheries inspectors after they were found to be conducting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Now The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) is pulling the plug on all three, demonstrating an increased intolerance by the authorities towards Chinese vessels involved in such practices.

The Chinese penchant for de-finning sharks and throwing them back alive to die is reprehensible to most people and is a practice which has also found a foothold into some native African fisheries which then transfer the ‘catch’ to China where the fins fetch big prices. The Chinese MoA has now cancelled the distant water fishing certificate of the Lian Run Pelagic Fishery Company which has been a known transgressor for some years and is facing a total shutdown of its entire distant water fishing operations involving 30 vessels in total. Also, the ministry has cancelled fuel subsidies for vessels belonging to two other major Chinese distant water fishing companies, thereby curbing their operations.

During last year’s operation evidence of various infringements including illegal nets, shark finning and fishing without licences were handed over by Greenpeace to West African and Chinese authorities which have been taking measures to restrict 2900 distant water fishing vessels' activities in their main fishing grounds. Since 2016, approximately €90 million (700 million RMB) in subsidies for 264 fishing vessels belonging to 78 Chinese distant water fishing companies have been cancelled by the Chinese government.

Three companies lost their certificates for distant water fishing, while 15 company owners and captains were blacklisted. Last year, China revised its Management Regulation on Distant Water Fishery and introduced stronger punishment measures against IUU. Placing an emphasis on how the invasion of foreign fishing fleets are impacting local communities, Pavel Klinckhamers, International Project Leader, West African Oceans, Greenpeace Netherlands, commented:

“Fish is an essential part of the diet for millions of people in West Africa. Only when local governments and fishing nations take strong action towards fisheries management and illegal fishing in the region can these resources and important ecosystems be safeguarded for future generations.”

Apart from arresting vessels in Guinean waters, Greenpeace also carried out joint patrols in Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone. Unfortunately, no information was handed over by West African countries to Chinese authorities on infringements by Chinese vessels in this region during the joint patrol. This makes it more difficult for flag states like China to act upon the wrongdoings of their vessels. Dr. Ibrahima Cisse, Greenpeace Africa Oceans Campaign Manager, commented:

“African governments’ initiatives against IUU fishing would be more efficient if they were to establish a system for sharing information on illegal vessels operating in their waters. Also, African governments must share this information with the flag states of the vessels that are breaching regulations as well as the countries where the companies behind the vessels are situated. ”

Photo: Sharks fins illegally harvested. Courtesy of Green Peace.

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