Stop blaming China for the state of the world’s fishing stocks


China may be the biggest player in the world’s fisheries, but Western countries are also in deep waters when it comes to industry rights violations and environmental damage, writes Siddharth Chakravarty.

There is no doubt that China is a key player in the current era of industrialized global fishing. The fact that China operates the largest fleet of fishing vessels in the world is well established. Related facts that China is the world’s largest consumer, producer and exporter of seafood are generally associated when discussing China’s fishing capacity and its environmental impacts. The general worldview calls China an irresponsible nation whose citizens seem to have an insatiable appetite for fish. However, there are many complexities in the history of China’s role in global fisheries, and these complexities remain poorly reported.

In the most-cited article on China’s deep-sea fishing fleets, the authors specifically recommended that “… the practices of China’s high-seas fleets do not differ much from those of other Asian countries. Eastern and European which also deploy offshore fleets, the main difference with the Chinese fleets being their size.

The authors write that unless studies of China’s maritime affairs are conducted with reference to the larger international context, “[T]The necessary dialogue with the Chinese authorities and with Chinese scientists would be weighed down by the suspicion that China is being singled out for practices unfortunately widespread in deep-sea fishing ”.

A 2015 article recounted how President Obama weakened the Coast Guard and Shipping Act in 2014 by including clauses that made it easier for foreign vessels to fish under the U.S. flag. The change was made to a law that had already been weakened in 2006, when exemptions were imposed to revive America’s declining far-water tuna fleets. The largest exemptions were for crew and ownership, allowing ships to be almost entirely manned by foreign crews and to be owned equally by foreign companies.

Over the past two years, numerous reports in major US media have highlighted the problem of labor abuse in the fishing industry that supplies seafood to American consumers. One senator replied: “I think most Americans were horrified to learn that the fish in the pet food they give their cats and dogs have been captured by children forced to work on them. ships against their will ”.

The United States imports about 91% of its seafood. In 1977, imports of shrimp into the United States totaled 103,429 metric tonnes. By 2016, that number had grown to 603,591 metric tonnes, with Asia providing over 75%. The immense burden of providing America with cheap shrimp has come at a huge cost to communities in Asia, even leaving aside the labor issues mentioned above.

However, just as in the case of reporting on China, most media reports have chosen to ignore the complexities of labor supply chains and have clubbed all problems under the banner of “labor. ‘slave “.

As you might expect, given the history of slavery in the United States, the stories had an immediate impact. They urged the government to take action, and in February 2016 a decision was made to change an 85-year-old law that allowed goods derived from slavery to enter the US market. As positive as this decision may sound, the fact is that, simply because the demand existed in America, slavery-like conditions were permitted elsewhere. Americans are well aware that to end slavery, changing the law is just the start. The country has a lot of work to do before it can hope to abolish it overseas, especially when it continues to have such a high demand for cheap seafood.

A search for the year 2016 on shows a list of 1,164 vessels registered in European Union (EU) countries fishing in distant waters. This only includes official agreements, since the European Commission has no data on private agreements. In addition, this database was made public by a group of NGOs who compiled it using an access to information request, which means that within the European Union also, the data is not readily available or is not fully transparent. There is ample evidence of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by European fleets in West Africa and the Southern Ocean, suggesting that the European Commission has room for improvement as well.

The 2014 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on the State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture projects that by 2030, China will account for 37% of the world’s production of fish and 38% of the supply of fish for human consumption, especially as a net exporter of food products. fish. This means that the rest of the world, including the United States and the European Union, will depend on China to meet its continued demand for seafood. To avoid weighing down discussions with China further, a more broad and intersectional must be adopted to engage with the country. But before that happens, public perception must move away from labeling China as the sole country responsible for pushing global fisheries to the brink.

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