The Chinese are suspected of capturing higher numbers of fish in distant waters than the ones declared. (Photo: Paul Hilton/Greenpeace)
Overseas fishing catch under-reported by more than 12 times: study
Thursday, April 04, 2013, 01:30 (GMT + 9)
China is under-reporting its overseas fishing catch by more than an order of magnitude and mainly in West Africa, according to a new study.
“We can’t assess the state of the oceans without knowing what’s being taken out of them,” said Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, who led the study.
This unreported catch is both devastating fisheries themselves and also in the process depriving West African populations of food security, he said.
Fisheries experts have long suspected that the catches reported by China to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are too low. From 2000-11, the country reported an average overseas catch of 368,000 tonnes a year -- even though it claims to have the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, which suggests that the country catches much more fish than it admits, says the European Union- (EU) funded study, Nature reports.
The team estimates that the average catch for 2000–11 was 4.6 million tonnes a year -- more than 12 times the official figure -- of which 2.9 million tonnes a year was sourced from West Africa.
Liu Xiaobing, director of the division of international cooperation of China’s bureau of fisheries, put the yearly overseas catch at 1.15 million tonnes last year. Pauly explained that this number may represent the amount of fish brought back to China as opposed to the total catch.
The findings are providing clues to fisheries scientists who were stumped as to the cause of some weak fisheries.
“So that’s where my fish were going!” said Didier Gascuel at the European University of Brittany in Rennes, France; he is a member of the scientific committee that advises Mauritania and the EU on fishing agreements.
For years, he stated, Mauritanian stocks of bottom-dwelling species such as octopus, grouper and sea bream have remained poor, which is explained by overfishing performed by bottom-scraping trawlers.
“We had no idea the Chinese catch was so big and of course we never included it our models,” Gascuel continued.
Because fishing contracts between Chinese companies and African nations are secret and Chinese companies sometimes run vessels flying local flags, the team had to combine clues from field interviews, scholarly articles and newspaper and online reports in 14 languages to estimate how many Chinese vessels were fishing in 93 countries and territories. They found that China had at least 900 ocean-fishing vessels, with 345 in West Africa, including 256 bottom-trawlers -- and many operating in countries where China reported no catch.
The study estimates the catch per country on the basis of an assumed average catch for each type of fishing vessel.
Some experts are suspicious, however.
“The new estimates seem far, far too high,” said Richard Grainger, chief of the fisheries statistics and information service at the FAO.
He pointed to a previous, less comprehensive study that estimated the total unreported catch in West Africa at 300,000–560,000 tonnes a year.
By Natalia Real