Chinese Taste for Fish Rankles

Following the seizure of two Chinese fishing vessels by the Argentinian coast guard on Wednesday and a series of incidents in waters closer to home, Chuin-Wei Yap and Sameer Mohindru report at The Wall Street Journal on China’s growing appetite for seafood, and its ecological and geopolitical effects.

The episode comes as China’s fishing boats increasingly find themselves embroiled in both cross-border and commercial disputes. Chinese ships fish in both international waters and under bilateral fisheries agreement in the waters of other nations. They work for largely private companies or for themselves, and aren’t generally directed by Beijing.

However, in Asian waters, fishing boats have become a proxy for China’s sovereign reach in largely territorial spats. In cases farther afield, its fishing boats have been entangled in accusations of overfishing and harming local economies.

[…] China’s hunger is growing at a time when around 87% of global fisheries are seen to be at full exploitation, overexploited, or depleted, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. China like other nations has signed international agreements that allow it to fish in global waters, and some fishing experts have praised Beijing for beefing up its statistics on fishing in some areas and for raising more fish in domestic farms.

Still, a European Commission report this year said China reported just 368,000 tons of its 2010-2011 catch from the high seas compared with an estimated actual haul of 4.6 million tons.

The height of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute in the autumn saw forays into the islands’ waters by fishing boats from Hong Kong and Taiwan, while China dispatched its own fishery monitoring vessels. Reports suggested that a thousand-strong armada of Chinese fishing boats would also converge on the islands, but this ultimately failed to materialise.