Chinese fishermen are damaging the livelihoods of South Americans through large-scale illegal fishing.
The fishermen have been visible in the Pacific Ocean for several years, and there’s nothing illegal about their fishing in international waters.
But according to Evan Ellis, an American expert on such matters, many of the fishermen have now begun entering several South American nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), and that is illegal.
An EEZ extends 200 nautical miles from the shore under rules set down by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Countries have the rights over the resources within their EEZs.
The close-in Chinese fishing has an impact on local fishermen who traditionally have relied on these waters for their livelihoods and can’t compete with Chinese trawlers and the big ships capable of refrigerating their catch.
The most numerous incursions by Chinese fishermen appear to target Argentina and Peru, although Chinese fishing boats have also been seen near Chile and Uruguay.
Much of what Evan Ellis has had to say about the most recent incursions and possible countermeasures and solutions to address them was first published the website Newsmax on Dec. 13.
Given the high demand for fish from a growing Chinese middle class, China’s distant-water fishing fleet has grown to the point where it reaches many locations around the world.
Much of the Chinese demand is for high-value fish and exotic species such as the now endangered tatoaba fish.
Shrimp and squid and a small species of porpoise which is mostly found near Mexico are also prized.
The tatoaba fish is much valued in Asia for the alleged medicinal properties of its bladder, according to Cliff White, writing for the Seafood Source website.
Totoaba bladders can sell for $1,400 and even as high as $4,000 in China, White reports. Other sources cite even higher prices.
Also endangered is the vaquita porpoise, a species of porpoise that is now estimated to number fewer than 100 because of illegal fishing.
The magazine Dialogo quoted Juan Carlos Sueiro, Peru’s director of the international organization OCEANA, as saying that Chinese illegal fishing has had its greatest impact on giant squid, cod, tuna, sharks, and totoaba.
Dialogo is a digital military magazine published by the U.S. Southern Command, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Peru has a capable navy, which can block some EEZ violations.
But Chinese fishing companies have bought into the Peruvian fishing fleet, which gives those companies rights to fish in Peru’s national waters.
Meanwhile, the Chinese fishing group Dalian Huafeng has expanded its presence in those waters through the purchase of Arbumasa, a Spanish fishing company which operates there.
Argentina and Ecuador push back
Several Latin American countries have used their navies and coast guards to push back against Chinese incursions but not enough to deter many of the Chinese fishermen for long.
In March 2016, an Argentine Coast Guard ship intercepted a Chinese vessel operating illegally in the waters of Argentina’s EEZ.
According to Evan Ellis, who is a research professor at the U.S. Army War College, Chinese vessels had routinely violated the zone, as they had in numerous other countries in the region.
But in this case, the Argentine Coast Guard ship fired a warning shot to halt the Chinese ship’s escape to international waters.
When the ship, the Lu Yan Yuan Yu, responded by trying to ram the Argentine vessel, the Coast Guard ship responded, inadvertently capsizing the Chinese vessel.
The Chinese crew escaped by swimming out to other Chinese vessels.
Argentine Navy submarines were then assigned to chase down illegal fishing vessels off southern Argentina, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
In August, 2016, Ecuador jailed 20 Chinese fishermen for up to four years for illegally fishing in the Galapagos Islands marine reserve, where they were caught with some 6,600 sharks.