China responds to ‘hypocrisy’ of EU fishing claims

Published on
June 2, 2015

China’s state run media has accused the EU of hypocrisy and hit back at claims of illegal fishing by its vessels in West African waters. EU fisheries have for decades emptied African waters through unfair deals with local governments, according to an article on the state-run Pengpai News, a mouthpiece for Chinese government views.

The lengthy article was published recently in response to a Greenpeace report that claims 183 illegal fishing cases involving 118 Chinese vessels over a 10-year period in West African waters. According to the report, Chinese vessels under-declared their tonnage with actual fishing capacity in some cases exceeding authorized limits by as much as 61 percent.

The Pengpai News article appears to have been prompted in part by negative coverage of China in the African newspapers which covered the launch of the Greenpeace report. While pointing out that African media quoted from an “international environmental protection organization” the Pengpai News claims that EU vessels have been illegally fishing African waters for decades, even sending in naval vessels to protect their fishing. The Pengpai report quotes Professor Peter Britz at Rhodes University to claim European vessels have been in African waters illegally for decades. The article also states that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has made similar claims, quoting the organization’s head of operations in West Africa.

Chinese academics have also entered the fray, basing their defense of China on what they see as hypocrisy elsewhere. “Developed countries for a long time controlled Africa’s fish while Chinese companies only entered these waters in 1985,” said Zhang Zhenke, a professor at the Institute for African Studies at Nanjing University.

“In the last few years China’s long-distance fisheries management improved a lot. China’s fisheries companies have made big contributions to West Africa’s economy… They established joint venture companies and employed locals and paid taxes according to local laws,” said Zhang.

China’s investments in Africa represent a contribution to the sustainability of African communities, notes professor Dai Xiaojie at Shanghai Ocean University – however China will have to do more on “country to country cooperation” to understand the EU emphasis has been on sustainable management of marine resources.

According to Pengpai’s report overfishing by western vessels is to blame for the piracy problem in Somalia and East Africa. Also, it claims, estimations of China’s catch in Africa are exaggerated by western organizations: the 2.9 million tons calculated by some organizations is closer to 1.2 million tons as stated by China’s ministry of agriculture, claims the Pengpai.

The Pengpai News pointed to a Deutsche Welle (a German broadcaster whose website ironically is blocked in China) report which claimed that EU vessels have hurt African fishing communities through overfishing. It also claims reports from the World Food Program showed the EU’s deal with Senegal hasn’t fairly compensated the Senegalese people for the fish. The paper also claims an EU deal with Mauritius was “unfair” – according to a Canadian academic unnamed in the Penglai report.

Claims by the Pengpai News (an online publication styled as a Chinese version of the Huffington Post, though funded by government to put a government line) of western naval forces offering cover to fishing vessels are interesting given China has been accused recently of using fleets of fishing vessels to probe and establish claims in disputed waters in the South China Sea. Likewise, as China seeks to assert itself on the high seas, it is also building its navy for patrols of fishing grounds at home and abroad. China has vowed to build its own Coast Guard and establish naval bases in areas where its fishing fleets are active: it will build such a base in Namibia alter this year according to a contract signed with Namibia.  

“There is still a wide gap in technology between China and western countries [in fishing technology]” according to professor Zhang. Yet his remark contrasts with the meeting earlier this year in Beijing to mark 30 years of China fishing the high seas, where a senior fisheries official praised the sophistication of Chinese high-seas fishing equipment.

China, according to Yu Kangzhen, China’s vice minister for agriculture with responsibility for fisheries, has increased its catch four-fold since 2000. Remarkably, in the past 30 years China has increased the scale of its long-distance fishing 300-fold, catching 2 million metric tons (MT) in 2014 – that compares to 2,600 MT in 1985, claimed Yu. Remarkably, the country fished CNY 18.5 billion (USD 2.96, EUR 2.59 billion) worth of fish from the high seas in 2014, a 4,000-fold increase on 1985 figures.

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