The French magazine Le Point said that the Chinese fleet is taking advantage of the weakness of the Gulf of Guinea countries to illegally fish in its waters, causing an environmental and economic catastrophe, but Beijing rejects these accusations categorically.
And the magazine - in an investigation by Julien Peron, its correspondent in Conakry - started from the observation of 5 boats whose names indicate that they belong to a Chinese company based in Liaoning Province near the North Korean border. For fishing in a restricted area or for not bringing in enough local staff, for fishing with an illegal net, and many other offences.
The phenomenon of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is one of the scourges of our time, according to the United Nations, which estimates that more than 25 million tons of fish are caught each year outside the regulatory and legal framework in West Africa, where 40% of illegal fishing vessels operate. 30% of these ships are Chinese.
Specialists consider that 40% of the fish caught on the shores of West Africa is illegal, and that the underwater raid represents an environmental disaster in terms of destroying marine and coastal ecosystems, and an economic disaster because some countries in the region are forced to import fish despite the fact that their territorial waters are among the richest coasts. world out.
Julien Daoudou, of the Environmental Justice Foundation - one of the best experts in the field of illegal fishing, and his studies are accredited by the European Union and the United Nations - says that the great responsibility for overfishing at the global level lies with the Chinese high seas fleet, explaining that Beijing was awarded the year 2019 About $1.8 billion in "harmful" subsidies for its fleet operating outside its waters, twice as much as any other country.
Although China limited its fleet to 3,000 ships, and acknowledges the existence of about 2,700 boats, the British ODI Research Center (ODI) counted, in a study in 2020, about 16,000 ships in the Chinese naval fleet, as Daoudou confirmed what the US Congressional Research Service says. That the Chinese fishing fleet is funded and supported by the political power, because it has become a tool for the country's expansionist ambitions.
Chinese ship at sea (Reuters)
Despite the aforementioned information, China rejects these accusations altogether, and the Global Times - which conveys Beijing's position in English to foreign public opinion - condemns "rumors spread by the Western media" about China's maritime activities, supported by "independent" researchers directing Western journalists towards Hunting habits in European Union countries, considering that Europe is a harmful factor in terms of illegal hunting.
But what these academics say contradicts the numbers, according to Daoudou.
There are 259 European vessels on the high seas compared to the officially declared Chinese fleet of 2,700 vessels. The Financial Transparency Coalition reports in a report this year that 90% of fishing vessels registered in Ghana are owned by the Chinese, and that 8 of the 10 largest shipping companies in the world are involved. In illegal fishing Chinese companies.
However, criticizing China publicly is not easy in West Africa, where it has become a major player, so that Seraphine Didi Nagy, Secretary-General of the Fisheries Committee in the West and Central Gulf of Guinea, which includes 6 coastal countries whose waters are being plundered, refuses to point the finger at Beijing, despite He is alarmed by this practice degrading the marine environment and even questions the figures provided by the Environmental Justice Foundation.
This official chose to point to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization that largely overlooked China, focusing on the activities of Japan, the European Union and Taiwan, and asserting that Beijing has an exclusive economic zone and has the exclusive right to exploit its resources.
In recent years, shipowners operating on the high seas have renewed their fleets, as well as their practices such as trawling, which is accused of destroying the sea floor, as well as transshipment, which means transferring a cargo of fish to a refrigerated ship, in return for which the fishing boat is supplied with food and fuel so that it can stay at sea for long periods, and return With a payload less than what he hunted.
The Environmental Justice Foundation estimates that Beijing has about 30 large refrigerated cargo ships that store and freeze the fish, thus evading potential controls, says Lieutenant Malek, who pilots a French Navy helicopter working to combat illegal fishing. Face any aggression, because they know we can't punish them."
Although technology can detect illegal fishing activities, especially after the development of the SkyLight device, which allows - thanks to artificial intelligence - to identify suspicious maneuvers among the movements of multiple boats, the response is up to local governments, says Ted Schmitt, director of the Allen Institute that developed Skylight.
Indeed, according to Ted Schmidt, the Republic of Sao Tome and Principe decided to use Skylight and other countries could follow suit, as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia are now using it to find out what Chinese fishing vessels are doing off their coasts.