Quito, Sep 24 (AP):
It’s the conservationists’ first glimpse of the world’s largest fishing fleet: an armada of nearly 300 Chinese vessels that have sailed halfway across the globe to lure the elusive Humboldt squid from the Pacific Ocean’s inky depths.
The vigilante patrol was prompted by an international outcry last summer when hundreds of Chinese vessels were discovered fishing for squid near the long-isolated Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO world heritage site that inspired 19th-century naturalist Charles Darwin and is home to some of the world’s most endangered species, from giant tortoises to hammerhead sharks.
China’s deployment to this remote expanse is no accident. Decades of overfishing have pushed its overseas fleet, the world’s largest, ever farther from home. Officially capped at 3,000 vessels, the fleet might actually consist of thousands more. Keeping such a sizable flotilla at sea, sometimes for years at a time, is at once a technical feat made possible through billions in state subsidies and a source of national pride akin to what the US space program was for generations of Americans. The US Coast Guard recently declared that illegal fishing had replaced piracy as its top maritime security threat. Meanwhile, activists are seeking restrictions on fishing as part of negotiations underway on a first-ever High Seas Treaty, which could dramatically boost international cooperation on the traditionally lawless waters that comprise nearly half of the planet.
‘Beijing is exporting its overfishing problem to South America,’ said Captain Peter Hammarstedt, director of campaigns for Sea Shepherd, a Netherlands-based ocean conservation group that operates nine well-equipped vessels, including the Ocean Warrior. ‘China is chiefly responsible for the plunder of shark and tuna in Asia,’ says Hammarstedt, who organized the high seas campaign, called Operation Distant Water, after watching how illegal Chinese vessels ravaged poor fishing villages in West Africa. ‘With that track record, are we really supposed to believe they will manage this new fishery responsibly?’
The Chinese fleet is able to fish for sometimes years at a time because they can offload their catch at sea into a network of giant refrigerated vessels.
China’s distant water fishing fleet launched in the 1980s as a response to depleting fish stocks at home and the need to feed its fast-growing population. But it’s evolved into a thriving industry and an important part of China’s geopolitical push to secure access to the world’s dwindling natural resources, says Mallory.
Nobody knows for sure how much China is fishing on the high seas. Meanwhile, critics say regional fishing management organizations that operate on the basis of consensus are powerless to block China from registering vessels with links to illegal fishing and abuse.
Quito, Sep 24 (AP):