Chinese city plans expansion of overseas squid, tuna catches
China’s international pelagic fishing fleet is getting larger but also more sophisticated, in part because a glut in the Chinese shipbuilding trade means vessels are easier than ever to acquire. Announcing aggressive pelagic expansion plans in African and Asian waters, officials in the port city of Weihai say in the first five months of this year the city had 260 (government records show it had 242 in February, suggesting rapid fleet expansion) “offshore fishing vessels” which are largely focused on the squid resources of the southwest Atlantic as well as tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific, according to the city’s Ocean & Fisheries Bureau, a government department. The bureau said it ultimately plans to have 330 vessels overseas by 2015, “which will make it China’s largest pelagic fleet.”
In a statement to SeafoodSource, the bureau claims more than a dozen “professional offshore seine fishery projects” run by the local fleet in the first five months together yielded a catch of 92,000 metric tons (MT) of seafood worth CNY 125 million (USD 20.1 million, EUR 14.8 million), an increase of 245 percent and 301 percent, respectively, on the same period last year.
Weihai’s Ocean & Fisheries Bureau is crediting the soaring figures for January-May on “improved economic efficiency” by which they mean: the quality of local vessels and equipment has improved. According to the bureau’s statement: the vessels “…match international peers in power, tonnage and all have high technology content…This is part of our effort to promote the city's deep-sea fishing fleet modernization process.”
Meanwhile, Weihai has also commissioned a further 33 “professional” ocean-going vessels largely for overseas squid and tuna operations. Africa and Asia are big targets for the fisheries bureau of Weihai, which is located in Shandong province, also home to the key port and processing hub of Qingdao, with which Weihai appears to be competing for resources to supply local export-oriented seafood processors. The city’s fisheries bureau plans to send more ships to Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire while also continuing operations in Liberia and Mauritius. Nearer to home, Weihai boats fish the waters of Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Fleet modernization also includes vessels to get seafood product caught by Weihai’s far-off fleet back to China quickly. Three locally-built “large ocean-going tankers” taking to the seas this year will increase the volume offshore fishing products back about 4.5 million MT, claimed the fisheries bureau in its statement. The new vessels means Weihai will “no longer be relying on others” and this will “also boost local aquatic products processing, cold storage logistics and other related industries.”
Fishing vessels have never been cheaper for fleets like Weihai’s. Over-capacity in China’s massive shipbuilding industry means there’s plenty of shipbuilders eager to provide vessels to domestic fishing fleets. The He Pu township near the giant industrial coast city of Ningbo for instance is home to more than a dozen shipbuilders now focused on building trawlers.
During the current downturn in the international shipping market shipbuilding enterprises in Hepu have transformed themselves positively by constructing various types of specialized offshore vessels. Offshore fishing vessels accounted for 70 percent of orders in the first quarter of 2014, with Bo Da and Dong Hong together building 70 fishing vessels worth nearly CNY 10 billion (USD 1.6 billion, EUR 1.2 billion).
Weihai’s plans will worry conservationists, who have worried about the expansion of China’s overseas fishing operations due to opaque reporting of catch amid frequent claims of illegal fishing by Chinese boats. The Chinese Overseas Fisheries Association (COFA), an organization founded in Beijing in 2012 to promote the “sustainable and healthy development” of China overseas fisheries, claims China in 2012 had 116 companies engaged in distant-water fisheries, and nearly 2,000 fishing vessels working overseas. China's agricultural ministry, which oversees fisheries, claims capacity on overseas fisheries still lags international peers: China's total annual catch from distant waters then was about 1.15 million MT, valued at USD 1.98 billion (EUR 1.46 billion), according to official figures. International environmental bodies and the EU have both claimed those figures are drastically underestimated.