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It is a whopper of a catch, in more ways than one: China is under-reporting its overseas fishing catch by more than an order of magnitude, according to a study published on 23 March. The problem is particularly acute in the rich fisheries of West Africa, where a lack of transparency in reporting is threatening efforts to evaluate the ecological health of the waters.

“We can’t assess the state of the oceans without knowing what’s being taken out of them,” said Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who led the study. The unreported catch is crippling the artisanal fisheries that help to feed West African populations, he said.

Fisheries experts have long suspected that the catches reported by China to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome are too low. From 2000 to 2011, the country reported an average overseas catch of 368,000 tons a year. Yet China claims to have the world’s biggest distant-water fishing fleet, implying a much larger haul, says the study, which was funded by the European Union (EU).

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