HomeNewsChinese Fishing Fleet Still Baits Argentina
NEWS

Chinese Fishing Fleet Still Baits Argentina

ARGENTINA / 7 JUN 2021 BY ALESSANDRO FORD EN

China’s distant-water fishing fleet is once again engaging in suspicious and potentially illegal fishing near Argentine waters, demonstrating the limits of both regional and Chinese government attempts to rope in the country’s industry.

This year, in a re-run of last summer’s diplomatic debacle, some 350 Chinese-flagged vessels have been fishing off the Argentine coast since December, depleting fishing stocks and extending their stay via unregulated transshipments – a controversial practice of transferring catch onto a mother ship that allows vessels to launder illegally caught fish.

Between January 2018 and April 2021, satellite data shows that over 400 Chinese-flagged vessels – mostly squid jiggers that use bright lamps to draw squid to the surface at night – pillaging the waters just outside Argentine territory for over 621,000 hours, according to a report released June 2 by conservation NGO Oceana. 

In over 4,000 incidents, however, these vessels disappeared from public tracking systems for over 24 hours, most likely by turning off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) to avoid detection,  a controversial practice that often masks criminal behavior such as crossing into sovereign waters to fish illegally, notes the report.

SEE ALSO: French Guiana’s Unpatrolled Waters Lure Illegal Fishing Crews

This three-year period includes April 2020, when some 100 squid jiggers, mostly Chinese-flagged, were caught fishing in Argentina’s national waters with their public tracking devices apparently turned off, according to Pesca Con Ciencia.

Given the fleet’s annual fishing routes, the Chinese fleet will soon be heading parallel to Chilean and then Peruvian waters. In response to the threat the fleet poses, Peru has strengthened its counter-illegal fishing legislation, while Chile is relying on heavier maritime surveillance protocols.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Chinese fishing fleet continues to constitute a profound and perennial threat to Argentina’s sovereignty, economy and biodiversity, with one expert calling the conflict “a literal war” over the billions of dollars in fish exports and survival of certain marine habitats.

After last year’s events, Argentina took firm action to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, which constitutes the sixth most lucrative global criminal economy, with estimated revenues of $15 to 36 billion, according to a 2017 report by Global Financial Integrity. Introducing stronger legislation, increasing fines and expanding maritime surveillance led the country to capture in 2020 the highest number of illegal vessels since 2006.

Likewise, the Chinese government appeared to take some, albeit minor, steps. These included closing squid-catching seasons for Chinese boats in certain South American waters from July to November and revising various articles in its Fisheries Law, including the blacklisting of repeat IUU-fishing offenders.

SEE ALSO: Chinese Fishing Fleet Leaves Ecuador, Chile, Peru Scrambling to Respond

However, it has remained intransigent in other areas. Despite holding out hope that it would finally ratify the 2016 Port State Measures Agreement – designed to combat IUU fishing -- China still has not done so, and despite capping fuel subsidies for domestic fishing, it continues to artificially sustain its distant-water fishing vessels with an estimated $400 million annual fuel subsidy.

Nor has it cooperated much with its South American counterparts. For example, while vessels intent on IUU fishing can easily turn off their AIS, it is harder to turn off their Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), which transmits confidential location information to the vessel’s flag state at set intervals.

Sharing VMS data on its distant-water fleet would therefore be an effective way for China to crack down on bad actors – yet when, during a commission for a South Pacific fisheries management body in early 2021, Chile proposed a measure allowing coastal states to request VMS data from nearby fishing boats, China outright refused.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 3 AUG 2022

Dozens of dead fishermen have been unloaded at Uruguay's Montevideo port. Vessels that dock there have been alleged to engage…

ARGENTINA / 25 OCT 2022

Bolivia's cocaine trade is on the up. Originally a coca leaf cultivator, Bolivia has moved to cocaine production.

ARGENTINA / 3 AUG 2022

Floodlights from Chinese fishing boats illuminate the darkness off Argentina’s Atlantic Coast, where the armada harvests tons of squid.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…

WORK WITH US

Work With Us: Research Internship and Editorial Internship

31 OCT 2022

InSight Crime, a think tank dedicated to the study of organized crime and citizen security in the Americas, is seeking interns and investigators to join its dynamic, multinational team.