China pauses squid fishing in Pacific, Atlantic breeding grounds for second year

CGTN reported on 29 June 2021 that China will launch a voluntary fishing moratorium on the high seas from July this year to preserve squid resources in open waters, according to China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs which regulates fishing.

From July 1 to September 30, the fishing ban will be observed in part of the high seas of the Southwest Atlantic Ocean outside the exclusive economic zones of countries concerned, while from September 1 to November 30, the moratorium will cover parts of the high seas in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

During the period, all Chinese squid fishing boats in the areas will suspend operations, the ministry said.

China piloted a voluntary fishing moratorium on parts of the high seas in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Pacific Ocean in 2020, which are among the country’s main pelagic fishing areas. Concerns have arisen that over fishing was pushing squid populations to the brink of collapse.

Following the pilot moratorium last year, the squid resources and the cumulative output of squid in these sea areas during the first four months of this year have improved from a year ago, as shown by an expert assessment, the ministry said.

Professor Wang Yamin, of Shandong University’s School of Oceanography said “The two regions selected to roll out bans are places where China has a better understanding of the resources and more mature management over ocean-going fishing vessels.”

“Squid have a relatively shorter growth cycle, so that a better effect can be achieved for a fishing ban targeting squid,” Wang added.

Wang noted that the three-month moratoriums will have a short-term impact on the income of fishery enterprises, but will be conducive to the sustainable development of fishing on the high seas.

Areas covered by the moratorium this year are again breeding grounds for two of the most popular squid varieties—the Argentine shortfin squid and the Humboldt squid.

Argentine shortfin squid catch in international waters ...
Argentine shortfin squid

Populations of the Argentine shortfin have been low in recent years, and the average catch by Chinese vessels in the southwest Atlantic only 50 tonnes in 2019 compared with up to 2,000 tonnes previously, according to the China squid fishing association.

According to Physic.org China harvests up to 70 percent of the global squid catch, and its vessels sail as far as West Africa and Latin America to meet growing consumer demand for seafood.

Last year’s piloted fishing ban on the high seas also targeted squid. More than 600 ocean-going fishing vessels and auxiliary vessels from over 70 fishing companies were evacuated according to regulations, and no illegal fishing activities were found within the area of the moratorium.

Professor Wang noted that “To tackle illegal fishing, the Chinese government has gradually tightened its oversight of deep-sea fishing vessels in recent years, such as requiring vessels to install the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, checking fishing boat logs, and establishing an observer system.”

In April, China sent its first group of five observers into international waters to board long-distance fishing vessels and supervise their activities on the high seas on behalf of the government, to further strengthen its supervision of long-distance fishing.

China’s fishing industry employs more than 14 million people, and another 30 million rely on fish for their livelihood.

Concerns have been raised by some, particularly South American fishing interests and conservation NGOs that China’s extensive overseas fleet is over fishing and damaging fragile marine ecosystems. “China is the world’s biggest squid consumer and a depleting catch has left officials worried,” said Zhou Wei, a marine ecosystem conservationist at Greenpeace China. “Ensuring a stable seafood supply is important to ensure food security” he added.

Professor Wang however refuted rumors hyped by some Western media that “illegal fishing” by China was responsible for “depleting fishing resources.”

China’s distant-water fishing fleet has over 2,600 vessels—more than ten times that of the United States—however, bear in mind that the Chinese population is five times that of the US, and that differences in dietary habits Chinese per capital consumption of seafood is about 60% higher than that of the US.

Also, in 2019 The European Union was the top exporter of fish and fishery products worldwide, at 36.2 billion U.S. dollars in export value. China came in second at 22.7 billion U.S. dollars in fish and fishery exports.

It is estimated that nearly a third of China’s distant-water fleet is engaged in squid fishing. “A squid fishing ban—even a temporary one—by China is pivotal to the health of the ocean given the sheer size of the catch,” said Zhang Jihong, a marine biologist at China’s Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute.

Note: China, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Spain, and South Korea account for 77% of the global highseas fishing fleet. 

The per capita consumption of sea food for key countries is shown in the following chart:

In August 2020, China began a direct negotiations with Ecuador on the issue of fishing near the Galapagos Exclusive Zone (EEZ), and China implemented its fishing moratorium for several months over the months of September to November in the western high seas of the Galapagos protection zone. That moratorium ceased Chinese fishing fleet operations in the agreed areas.

US Coast Guard to tackle China 'illegal' fishing in ...

It was agreed by the two parties that Ecuador would monitor Chinese fishing vessels on the high seas near the Galapagos EEZ, and that any indication of illegal fishing by the Chinese fishing fleet would be reported by Ecuador to the Chinese government.

China said it adopted a policy of “zero tolerance” and would severely punish Chinese vessels involved in illegal fishing and the companies to which they belong. Both China and Ecuador agreed to work towards a permanent solution through diplomatic channels at the bilateral and multilateral level. Both countries are members of the Regional Organization for Fisheries Management of the South Pacific.

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Sources:

CGTN, 29 June 2021 https://news.cgtn.com/news/2021-06-29/China-to-launch-fishing-moratorium-on-high-seas-11tXLnS8GAw/index.html

Global Times, 29 June 2021 https://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/china/2021/06/china-210629-globaltimes01.htm

Physics.org, 29 June 2021 https://phys.org/news/2021-06-china-squid-fishing-pacific-atlantic.html

SOS-Galapagos, 5 August 2020 & 29 June 2021 https://sosgalapagos.org/2020/08/06/china-accepts-negotiation-with-ecuador-for-fishing-fleet/