Chinese fishing boats have been labelled responsible for the destruction of the economies of islands in the South Pacific, due to their illegal practice of “illegal, unregulated fishing.”
Radio Free Asia reports that two former U.S. officials say that unregulated fishing by Chinese vessels has become commonplace in the waters off the coast of American Samoa, Guam and even as far east as Hawaii, all of which are American territories.
The Chinese fishing actions have impacted the local economies so badly that a tuna cannery on American Samoa, which is one of the island’s largest employers, was forced to suspend its operations due to a lack of fish.
China’s fishing fleets, also known as “dark” fleets, have been widely documented as plundering the world’s oceans. ABC.net.au reported last year that China’s vast armada has caused alarm to many island nations, including those in Latin America, West Africa and Antarctica.
In 2020, Ecuador’s government called in the United States Coast Guard to fend off the dark fleet when it appeared outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The Coast Guard described the magnitude of China’s fishing activity as “unprecedented.”
China’s massive fishing fleets have caused a strain on worldwide fishing stocks, in addition to destroying local wildlife, and rendering once vibrant habitats completely lifeless.
As reported by Radio Free Asia, the expansion of Chinese fishing vessels and their overseas reach is fueled by Chinese state policies, which offer tax breaks on imported fishing equipment and provide subsidies for fuel and shipbuilding. It is unclear how big of a role these factors have played in the South Pacific, but what is certain is that China’s fleets span the entire globe.
The publication reports that China’s fishing in the South Pacific stems from increased demand from China’s middle class, who value high-quality fish in their diet and only wish to consume tuna that can be found in the South Pacific.
In addition to tuna, the Chinese middle class also consumes sea cucumber, which is used in soups and other dishes. They are also used in traditional Chinese medicine. Like the tuna, sea cucumbers find their habitats endangered by Chinese vessels in the South Pacific.
China may pose a major threat to the world’s marine ecology, but it is not the only country responsible for the destruction of the oceans. Other countries found to perform illegal fishing in the region including Vietnam, which was caught fishing off the coast of the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia a few years ago.
Local authorities have pushed back against Chinese fishing fleets. Palau, an island nation with close relations with Taiwan, detained a Chinese fishing vessel and six smaller boats last December. The Guardian reports that Palauan officials alleged that Chinese fishing ships were illegally harvesting sea cucumbers in its territorial waters.
As one of Taiwan’s few allies in the region, Palau has asked the United States to build ports, bases and airfields on its islands in response to the rising Chinese threat.