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23 Jun 2020

Overseas Development Institute

Report reveals scale, impact and governance of Chinese distant-water fishing fleets

“China’s distant-water fishing fleet: scale, impact and governance”, June 2020

Having depleted fish stocks in domestic waters, the fleets of many industrialised countries are now travelling further afield to meet the rising demand for seafood. Much of this distant-water fishing (DWF) takes place in the territorial waters of low-income countries. As well as competing against the interests of local people, DWF in low-income countries is often associated with unsustainable levels of extraction, and with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities. China’s DWF fleet is the largest in the world, but little information is available about its actual size and the scale of its operations. It is also unclear whether the Government of China has a comprehensive overview of China’s DWF fleet; vessel ownership is highly fragmented among many small companies and the fleet includes vessels registered in other jurisdictions.

Key findings

-        With 16,966 vessels, China’s DWF fleet is 5–8 times larger than previous estimates. 

-        Trawlers are the most common DWF vessel, and most vessels are in the Northwest Pacific.

-        Almost 1,000 Chinese DWF vessels are registered in other countries. 

-        The ownership and operational control of China’s DWF fleet is both complex and opaque.

-        At least 183 vessels in China’s DWF fleet are suspected of involvement in IUU fishing…