From WSJ by Chuin-Wei Yap
Governments and conservation groups accuse the ships of fishing illegally and advancing military goals
In Beijing’s push to become a maritime superpower, China’s fishing fleet has grown to become the world’s largest by far—and it has turned more aggressive, provoking tensions around the globe.
The ministry said that Beijing implements the world’s strictest oversight on distant-water fishing. It has toughened legal penalties on errant fishing in recent years.
EAST CHINA SEA
The sea near China is already one of the most crowded fishing areas in the world, pushing the country's distant-water fleet further away.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
The U.S. has signaled rising concern over the alliance of China's military and its fishing fleet, which has helped set up island settlements in the area.
Fishermen in Ghana say dozens of Chinese trawlers have come into Ghana's own waters, targeting shallow-dwelling fish. China's foreign ministry said its fleet must comply with local laws.
In May, Indonesian authorities began investigating a Chinese tuna trawler where four Indonesian fishermen died on the high seas off Samoa, including allegations of illegal fishing. Beijing said it was looking into the case.
In August, hundreds of Chinese trawlers gathered near Ecuador's Galápagos Islands. Beijing said in response to concerns from Ecuadorian authorities that it requires its fishers abroad to comply with local laws.
In the West African nation of Ghana, fishermen say that dozens of Chinese trawlers, equipped to fish at all depths, are venturing daily from their deep-sea license remits into Ghana’s sovereign waters, targeting shallow-dwelling fish that used to be a local preserve.
China’s foreign ministry said it requires its fishers abroad to comply with local laws.
Mr. Xi’s plan called for the world-wide development of 29 distant-water fishing bases, which help to project Beijing’s vision of itself at the center of a web of global infrastructure.
In West Africa, Fuzhou Hongdong Pelagic Fishery Co. is using $60 million in state funds to expand a fishing port in Mauritania, China’s largest distant-water base, state media reports say. China has no naval base in the region.
Chinese companies also are building a fishing port in Pakistan, near a major oil route and where Beijing jockeys for geopolitical influence.
Since 2015, China’s distant-water catch has averaged two million tons a year, according to state data, which analysts say could undercount the actual total.
The industry helps China act on territorial claims, such as by sending fishermen to set up settlements on previously unoccupied atolls in the South China Sea.
The Chinese navy, coast guard and paramilitary often join hundreds of fishermen in motorboats in regional seas where China has built artificial islands with military-capable facilities, including air strips, jet fighter hangars and naval bases.
Vietnamese officials say a Chinese coast guard ship sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in April near the Paracel Islands, which both nations claim. Beijing said the Vietnamese vessel collided with the Chinese.
The incident followed Chinese altercations with fishing vessels from other South China Sea claimants such as the Philippines and Indonesia over the years.
Maritime law allows coastal states varying levels of control over seas up to 200 nautical miles from their shoreline.
In October, Malaysia’s maritime authorities detained six Chinese fishing vessels, accusing them of trespassing in its waters.
In August, some 300 Chinese trawlers fished near Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands.
“Over the past five years, there has been a giant transformational shift with the Chinese distant-water fleet,” said Steve Trent, co-founder of London-based conservation group Environmental Justice Foundation.
Ghana reserves an area six nautical miles from shore for local fisheries. Chinese trawlers increasingly ignore these poorly policed rules, fishermen and conservation groups say.
The modern Chinese industrial trawler can fish 700 tons a day, a volume that would take the largest African fishing canoe six months to harvest, industry data show.
China’s foreign ministry said it had taken note of the allegations.
Fishing communities often are overshadowed by larger priorities in bilateral trade.
In neighboring Sierra Leone, where China has invested billions of dollars to develop mining and highways, local authorities say that illegal Chinese fishing drains $29 million annually in state revenue—but that they are ill-equipped to police it.
Even on the high seas, which are relatively free from the scrutiny of sovereign authorities, Chinese trawlers have come under investigation.
In May, Indonesian authorities began probing a Chinese tuna trawler where four Indonesian fishermen died while on the South Pacific Ocean.
“From October, we stopped catching tuna,” said fisherman Rizky Alvian.