China has been singled out after an analysis conducted by the conservation group Oceana revealed that the country would have made moratoriums against squid overfishing in areas where Chinese fleets do not usually fish. According to that analysis, this would be merely “a public relations ploy.”
The People’s Republic of China boasts extensive territorial waters for fishing and the world’s most distant water fleets, with an estimated nearly 11,000 fishing vessels tracked through the Automatic Identification System (AIS).
In this context, responsible fishing is a necessity, but Chinese fleets have a historically poor reputation. Since 2020, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs launched a pilot program banning fishing in the southwest Atlantic Ocean from July 1 to September 30 and in the eastern Pacific Ocean from July 1 to November 31. These actions supposedly impact around 70 fishing companies and cancel some 700 squid fishing trips annually.
However, research by Oceana suggests less optimistic restrictions on illegal squid fishing. According to their data, China conducted over 330,000 hours of squid fishing in the first half of 2023.
Chinese authorities state that the moratorium areas serve as squid breeding grounds and that the bans will aid population recovery. Despite this, Oceana remains skeptical and told The Guardian, “squid are highly migratory, necessitating larger areas to genuinely protect breeding grounds.”
Specific data of the analysis
To conduct this research, Oceana analyzed data from Global Fishing Watch’s (GFW) AIS, which relies on Chinese fishing vessels having AIS tracking enabled and functioning, even though many of them have on other occasions shown “failures.” The organization pointed out three noteworthy facts in its analysis of the locations and durations of Asian vessels’ presence prior to the moratorium.
The first is that in 2019, before China self-imposed a ban on fishing in a small area in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the Chinese Fishing fleet only appeared for 38 hours in the moratorium area.
In another of the areas under the moratorium, in this case, a small one in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean, not even a single ship passed through in 2019.
Finally, among the most recent data, Oceana pointed to another small area in the northern Indian Ocean in which it self-imposed a fishing ban this year. In this one, the estimate for the Chinese fleet in the moratorium area in 2022 was 21 hours.
Dr. Max Valentine, Oceana’s campaign director, explained that this data revealed that it was all greenwashing at the global level. “China’s supposed fishing bans are built on pretenses. It’s like a penguin saying it’s giving up flying.” Strong words to which he added that these were not real solutions to the problem of overfishing. “Ending squid fishing in areas where there is no fishing does nothing to protect squid. If we are going to take responsible fishing seriously, we need real solutions — not ones built on optics to disingenuously win the world’s good favor.”
The danger of overfishing: a worldwide concern
The danger of overfishing, which is usually also illegal fishing, is the risk it poses to the ecosystem. Catching too many fish can break the food chain: some lose their food source, and others grow out of control. This causes a readjustment of the entire ecosystem with unpredictable consequences and can lead to the disappearance of species.
Thus, when fleets focus massively on a largely unregulated and unmonitored fishery, as is the case with international squid fisheries, it poses a significant threat. Not only to the waters in which China fishes but also to ocean ecosystems worldwide.
Finally, Oceana pointed to one last shocking figure, and that is that “China is the world’s largest provider of harmful [government] fisheries subsidies, estimated around USD 5.9 billion.” They clarify that these subsidies “promote overcapacity and incentivize overfishing.”
Oceana, the largest global ocean conservation advocate, restores biodiverse oceans through science-based policies in nations overseeing wild fish catch. With 275+ victories against overfishing, habitat damage, pollution, and species endangerment, Oceana’s efforts ensure a healthier future. Visit Oceana.org to learn more about saving oceans and feeding the world.
About Global Fishing Watch
Global Fishing Watch, an international nonprofit, offers open data to enhance ocean governance by revealing human activities at sea. This article’s viewpoints belong to the authors and are independent from Global Fishing Watch. Through shared map visuals, data, and analysis tools, the organization facilitates scientific research and revolutionizes ocean management. The data from Global Fishing Watch contributed to this publication.