Chinese Fishing Fleet Depleting Humboldt Squid Supply In Pacific
Conservationists aboard the Ocean Warrior have documented how a Chinese 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 using bright lights.
Photo Insert: Humboldt Squid
Joshua Goodman of the Associated Press (AP), with Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, accompanied the Ocean Warrior this summer on an 18-day voyage to observe up close for the first time the Chinese distant water fishing fleet on the high seas off South America.
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.
Beijing says it has zero tolerance for illegal fishing and points to recent actions such as a temporary moratorium on high seas squid fishing as evidence of its environmental stewardship. But the sheer size of the Chinese fleet and its recent arrival to the Americas has stirred fears that it could exhaust marine stocks.
There’s also concern that in the absence of effective controls, illegal fishing will soar. 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.
Of the 30 vessels the AP observed up close, 24 had a history of labor abuse accusations, past convictions for illegal fishing, or showed signs of possibly violating maritime law.
Collectively, these issues underscore how the open ocean around the Americas — where the US has long dominated and China is jockeying for influence — have become a magnet for the seafood industry’s worst offenders.