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5 Jun 2023


Latin America: New UN High Seas Treaty could curb Chinese vessels reportedly engaged in illegal fishing

"Chinese Fishing Vessels’ ‘Floating Cities’ Prey on Latin American Seas" 5 June 2023

The waters off the coast of Argentina are home to a unique phenomenon — seemingly “floating cities” of fishing vessels that exploit the lack of legislation in international waters to plunder the marine ecosystem. Most are part of China’s vast fishing fleet, which numbers in the hundreds and operate in international waters without any oversight or regulation, abusing legal loopholes to fish. [...] These floating cities are made up of some 600 vessels, 80 percent of which fly the Chinese flag. The numerous lights they use to attract the plankton that squid, a coveted species for these vessels, primarily feed on, earned them the floating cities analogy. [...]

Slavery and death

In addition to the environmental impact, Chinese fishing fleets also contribute to social issues, such as using forced labor and taking part in human trafficking. There are also reports of accidents and deaths aboard these vessels.

The International Labor Organization estimated in 2021 that there were some 128,000 fishermen trapped in forced labor on fishing vessels, working up to 20 hours a day. According to Valentine, many of these workers are at sea for months or years before returning to port, where they can get support to escape these conditions, T13 reported.

But the outlook could change for IUU fishing fleets after United Nations (U.N.) member countries finalized a text in March that seeks to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The High Seas Treaty, which still has to be ratified, sets out to protect marine biodiversity in international waters, qualifying 30 percent of the world’s oceans as protected areas.

After nearly two decades of negotiations, “this action is a victory for multilateralism and for global efforts to counter the destructive trends facing the health of the oceans, now and for generations to come,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said. “It is vital for achieving ocean-related goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework,” he added, referring to the pledge to protect a third of the world’s biodiversity — on land and on sea — by 2030 made at a U.N. conference in Montreal.