China slammed over state-funded fleets 'ravaging' marine life

WARNING - CONFRONTING IMAGES: Endangered and protected marine species are being targeted by Chinese fishing vessels operating in international waters, a new report alleges.

Almost $2.4 billion in state subsidies are supporting the country's distant water fleet (CDWF), which is known to haul in billions of dollars worth of seafood each year.

The 56-page Ever-Widening Net report, authored by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), claims widespread instances of environmental damage and human rights abuses by fishing operators.

Left - Chinese fishing boats in port. Right - Thousands of squid caught on a boat.
A new report highlights concerns about practices by some parts of the Chinese distant water fleet. Source: EJF

Using publicly available Chinese government data and on-ground investigations, the UK non-profit has catalogued what it says is overexploitation of fisheries, particularly in developing African nations.

Key concerns about Chinese fishing fleet revealed

Releasing their findings this week, EJF are calling on the Chinese government to better manage its fleet, and for international regulators to be more transparent.

"These state-subsidised vessels are ravaging the ocean, committing human rights abuses and driving environmental injustice, all while hiding behind complex onshore corporate structures preventing those responsible from being held to account," EJF CEO Steve Trent said.

The report has highlighted a number of key concerns which include:

  • Chinese fishing vessels have become a “substantial presence” in developing nations where locals are heavily dependent on fishing.

  • Because the CDWF is evolving from state to private ownership, government control has loosened.

  • Illegal fishing is frequently associated with the CDWF.

  • It accounts for 30 per cent of fishing in Mauritania where fish populations have been decimated for the oil and meal industries.

  • Bottom trawling vessels, which cause severe ecological damage, are commonly used.

  • Human rights abuses of foreign crews including debt bondage and physical violence.

  • China has indicated it now wishes to focus on catching squid.

Shark finning impacting global populations

Bycatch and shark-finning were other major concerns highlighted by EJF, with interviews and undercover footage revealing horrifying practices.

Finning frequently involves slicing the fin from a living shark and then tossing its body overboard to drown.

“It did not matter whether the shark was big or small, even babies inside the sharks' belly - we took them all," a crew member was documented as saying.

"I guess you could call it a ‘devil vessel’ because it really took everything,"

Cetaceans were amongst the marine creatures crew members said they were directed to kill. Source: EJF
Cetaceans were amongst the marine creatures crew members said they were directed to kill. Source: EJF

While the CDWF’s footprint in Australia is small, the Pacific nation is one of the world’s top 20 importers of shark fin.

Globally around 63 million sharks are killed each year and 70 percent of sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.

Endangered species found to have been targeted by Chinese vessels include scalloped hammerhead sharks, short-fin mako sharks and white sharks.

Concern fleet targeting dolphins and seals

It’s not just animals with a high value that are being slaughtered by the CDWF, with crew members alleging non-target species were killed “for fun”.

One former employ said the captain of his ship enjoyed harpooning dolphins which followed his vessel.

"If the captain ordered us to pull the dolphins up, we pulled them up... We took its teeth and threw away the body," a crew member was quoted as saying.

Australia is one of the world's biggest importers of shark fin. Source: Getty
Australia is one of the world's biggest importers of shark fin. Source: Getty

Horrifying mobile phone footage, too disturbing to include in this article, shows a seal being harpooned and clubbed over a prolonged period.

"The Chinese drank the seal’s blood; it is believed that it would make them stronger," a crew member reportedly said.

"Then the seal’s teeth, whiskers, and genitalia were also taken."

Plummeting fish populations a serious concern

China is the world’s biggest producer of fish according to United Nations research and across the globe stocks are plummeting.

An estimated 34 to 49 per cent of fisheries are believed to be overexploited, but this figure jumps to almost 90 percent when the depleted populations are also included.

The UN has warned that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing remain one of the biggest threats to the sustainability of the sector.

Around 3 billion people rely on fish for nourishment, and approximately 820 million rely on the sector as a source of income.

If fish stocks continue to plummet, humans as well as ecosystems are expected to be severely impacted.

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