Fish stocks on the verge of collapse – how the Chinese fleet is destroying our oceans

Fish stocks on the verge of collapse - how the Chinese fleet is destroying our oceans

Huge fishing fleets are out in the world’s oceans, and this has disastrous consequences: in some marine areas, fish stocks are on the verge of collapse! Meaning: More fish are removed than can grow back.

According to the World Food Organization, a third of the good stocks of fish have already been exhausted. This is partly due to government subsidies, especially for fuel, that make many other unprofitable fishing expeditions attractive in the distant seas.

In the fight against harmful state aid to fisheries, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is increasingly moving. The head of the WTO, Ngoji Okonjo-Iwela, is confident that the recently started talks can be swiftly brought to a conclusion after 20 years.

After the online ministerial meeting in Geneva in mid-July, Colombia’s ambassador, negotiator Santiago Wills, said: “20 years is too long, and if we continue to negotiate for 20 years, there will be no more fish left.”


A third of species are already overexploited

The aim of the talks is to save the fish stock. A third of the species is already extinct. Billions of people worldwide depend on fish as an important source of protein. Environmentalists are also demanding that people in wealthier countries eat less fish because they have other sources of protein, such as vegetable sources, said WWF fisheries expert Anna Holl.

“Fishing must operate according to clear, credible regulations, otherwise excessive fishing will result,” said Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner (CDU).

“We catch too many fish from the ocean and destroy our oceans habitats by using non-eco-friendly fishing gear. But this problem can be fixed quickly! We just need political leadership,” Dr. Katja Hokun from Deutsche Umwelthilfe to BILD.


Too many young animals being removed so stocks can't recover

Too many young animals being removed so stocks can’t recoverPhoto: — / dpa

work for 60 million people

Fishing numbers:

According to the FAO, the total amount of fish caught around the world has remained stable at around 85 million tonnes per year since 1990.

Fishing employs 60 million people.

For three billion people, fish is the most important source of protein, the WWF reports.

troll horror

Partly because many species of fish are already in short supply, today the same amount of fish is caught by many more ships, and more often by large commercial fleets.

These boats often use harmful trawls in which turtles, whales and dolphins die. Foreign boats fish in the economic zones of coastal countries that do not have the funds to patrol.

Too many young animals are also removed so that the stock cannot recover. Smaller fishermen also fall by the wayside, often in developing countries that have fewer fish near the coast and no money to go further.

Fleet operators do not follow the rules

In fact, fisheries in almost all ocean areas are organized and controlled by 17 Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). They monitor the stock and issue licenses for the catch quota.

However, not all fishermen and fleet operators follow the rules.

Illegal fishermen turn off tracking devices

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a major problem. Boat fish in the territorial waters of other countries turn off their tracking devices to avoid the detection of fish species that are under protection.

In the index of “Global Initiative Against International Organized Crime”, China ranks worst, followed by Taiwan, Cambodia and Russia.

huge china fleet

Fishing is problematic in waters off local shores. Here it dwarfs the EU countries with about 250 and the United States with about 300 boats.

China dwarfs everything: officially there were about 2,700 registered long-distance fishing boats in 2019. But according to 2020 analyses, about 17,000 Chinese boats are caught away from home.


Herring stocks are also at risk

Herring stocks are also at riskPhoto: Alliance / ZB

lethal subsidy

According to a study from Canada, global fisheries subsidies amounted to about $35.4 billion in 2018. Some billions are used to strengthen good fisheries management and sustainable fishing, but according to the study, 63 percent of the money goes into harmful subsidies, especially for fuel.

“For consumers, the subsidies that exist for perishable industrial fisheries mean they are already paying twice as much for their fish – first when they pay taxes and second when they buy fish,” explains Hkun. Huh.

And further: “Worse yet, consumers finance the destructive fishing fleet’s informal fishing trips through their taxes and thus contribute even more CO2-Pollution.”


Endangered fish species - which species should be avoided

Who subsidizes over-exploitation of oceans?

According to a Canadian study, China is by far the biggest payer of harmful subsidies. There were payments of $5.9 billion, Japan $2.1 billion and the European Union $2 billion.

“It is important that the EU plays a constructive role in these final WTO negotiations and pushes for an end to all harmful subsidies, especially fuel subsidies,” Haukun said.

some hope

There is now a ban on illegally-caught boats as well as subsidies for boats looking for species that have already overfished and for fish that are far from home waters.

Representatives of 128 countries spoke at the meeting held on 15 July in Geneva. The final agreement is to be signed in December. It aims to stop illegal fishing and subsidies for activities that lead to overfishing or further depletion of stocks. “We couldn’t have wished for a better result,” Nozzi said.

He got the political support he was looking for. But there are still many differences to be bridged. Several delegations called for changes to the draft treaty. There can be no talk of success yet!


WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria

WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria in Geneva on 15 JulyPhoto: Dennis Ballybos/Reuters

How is China doing?

It is not clear who determines how, whether a boat is involved in illegal fishing and for how long subsidies will be suspended, or which stocks are depleted and what management methods are to avoid overfishing. are suitable for.

One of the biggest sticking points from the EU’s point of view is the fact that China, the world’s second-largest economy, claims developing country status in the WTO, applying “special and preferential treatment”. These may be exceptions to obligations or longer transition periods for the implementation of measures.

But it is not acceptable that the exceptions apply to self-declared developing countries, which are among the largest fish producers and subsidy providers, said US Trade Representative Catherine Tai, who calls for measures against forced labor on fishing boats. also say.

Europeans and Americans insist that China, which has the world’s largest fishing fleet, be explicitly exempted from such preferential treatment.

What can be gained from the agreement?

The US environmental organization “Pew Charitable Trusts” estimates that the total amount of fish in the world’s oceans would increase by 12.5 percent by 2050 if all harmful fishing subsidies were eliminated.

That would be 35 million tons more fish – three times the amount of fish eaten in Africa in an entire year.

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