China updates 2003 supervisory regime for its distant-water fleet

Published on
March 30, 2020

A new series of regulations on China’s distant-water fleet set to enter into force in April will force further transparency on the fleet and will crack down on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity, according to a government document announcing the rules.

The “Distant-Water Fishing Management System,” which will be enforced beginning on 1 April, will be an update on the measures in place since 2003, when China’s Agriculture Ministry published “Distant-Water Fishing Supervisory Provisions.” That document charged the ministry with licensing and overseeing China’s distant-water fishing industry, with the State Council, China’s cabinet, getting a voice in policy-making.

Under the new regulations, China’s distant-water vessels will continue to be monitored and regulated by the ministry’s Bureau of Fisheries through its Distant-Water Fishing Subdivision. The country’s fleet has nearly doubled since the 2003 regulations, to a current 2,600 vessels, according to the document.

The new document lists 13 types of illegal activities (among them IUU and “unsafe” navigation) punishable “according to the severity of the situation,” with companies facing suspension or disqualification. A blacklist of errant personnel will be maintained by the Bureau of Fisheries.

Additionally, under the new regime, data such as business licenses, ship inspection certificates, and vessel ownership data will be maintained online, replacing China’s paper-based system. But the document does not clarify whether that information will be shared with the global community.

The new rules update China's rules on re-flagging of vessels or modification of vessels’ appearance, while also detailing new rules for entering international ports. China has also updated its rules for “foreign vessels guilty of IUU” entering Chinese ports, according to the ministry’s summary, but it’s not clear how the new rules impact whether Chinese-owned vessels suspected or guilty of IUU activities will be allowed into Chinese ports.

There has been much speculation as to whether or when China will ratify the UN’s Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which came into effect in June 2016 as a means of monitoring vessels guilty of illegal fishing when they offload their catch through the sharing of information between states.

China is already a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS entered), which it ratified in 1996.

Photo courtesy of meteorlau/Shutterstock

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