Overseas Development Institute (ODI) research focused on China's fleets due to the large size and intense global presence of its fishing activities and the low levels of transparency and control over its operations. Copyright: Overseas Development Institute

China - Coastal fishing communities ‘facing disaster’

Industrialised countries’ distant-water fishing fleets are plundering the fish stocks of low-income countries, with China’s fleet much larger than previously thought, a new study reveals.

While overfishing is a global issue, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says that “the sheer size and global presence” of China’s distant-water fleet means it is the most significant actor in the fisheries crisis.

Globally, 90 per cent of commercially-exploited marine fish stocks are either overfished or fished to their maximum sustainable limits, Food and Agriculture Organization data shows. Nearly 80 per cent of industrial fishing in the national waters of low-income countries is reportedly carried out by vessels flagged to higher-income countries.

“Any excessive exploitation in areas close to our exclusive economic zone has an economic and ecosystem impact on our fishing interests.”

Pablo Filippo, natural resources law specialist, University of Buenos Aires

Using big data analysis, ensemble algorithms and geographic information systems, the ODI found that China’s distant-water fishing fleet was between five and eight times larger than previous estimates, with about 17,000 identified vessels – 12,490 of them observed outside Chinese waters.

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