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Illegal Chinese Fishing Enabled By Corruption

Corruption and economic blackmails must not be given space to supersede the marine life and magnitude of blue economy.

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The massive illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) in the ocean by the Chinese ‘Distant Water Fleet’ is well known and documented. Despite this, they continue to operate under the full eye of the authorities responsible for protecting maritime waters.

The big question remains: who’s protecting them? Who is issuing operating licenses to allow this unprecedented destruction?

Chinese scrupulous businessmen are known for bribing their way through the system, and corruption cannot be ruled out in this major scandal.

As the economy is denied billions in revenue due to the Chinese’s impunity in the waters, a few greedy officials are counting dirty money, which goes to show the lack of integrity in responsible offices.

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Senegal for instance is the second largest fish producer in West Africa after Nigeria but poor governance of fisheries has allowed pilferage by dodgy industrial fishing fleets.

A 2022 report by the Senegalese National Office to Fight Fraud and Corruption (OFNAC), noted grievous infractions of the country’s Fisheries Code by the Ministry of Fisheries at the time. The report highlighted irregularities in issuance of industrial fishing licenses, to the detriment of artisanal fishing and national food security. To mitigate against these nebulous practices, stakeholders have been demanding an audit and publication of the list of fishing vessels authorized in Senegal.

This is the likely route that Kenya and neighboring countries should take to tame the Chinese menace.

The ocean in the coastal states of Kenya and Tanzania is a major lifeline for millions of households in the region. A thriving blue economy means improved livelihoods through long-term sustainable marine ecosystem. The economy continues to attract massive investments and foreign entrants in particularly China with sugary face-value deals.

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Importantly, timely big questions continues to arise on the beneficiaries of these deals at the expense of the impunity, cruelty, illegality, human rights abuse and blatant destruction of marine ecosystems by Chinese DWF (Distant-water Fleet) vessels involved in Illegal, Unreported and unregulated(IUU) fishing in the Indian ocean.

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Real time stories, investigations and reports by Environmental Justice Foundation, a partner in the fight of IUU points out atrocities continuously committed by DWF vessels again and again at the watch of regulating authorities with little or zero action taken. Interestingly, it’s still business as usual for the foreign enterprises in the IUU fishing even with number of red-flags and reports worth revocation of their operational licenses. A voice has to get out ask tough question on the framework of licensing in the deep sea fishing and other established regulations on IUU fishing and how to curb the Chinese menace and bravado beyond the face-value.

For Kenya, deep-sea fishing is regulated and licensed by several authorities including Kenya Fisheries Service(KFS), Kenya Maritime Authority(KMA) and the Kenya Coast Guard Service. In Tanzania, the whole system is regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and fisheries and in particular Fisheries Division, the Tanzania Maritime Authority(TMA) and the Tanzania Fisheries Enforcement and Compliance Unit. These licences comes with conditions ranging from catch limits, fishing gear restrictions to reporting requirements for monitoring and guaranteeing compliance with marine conservation measures. Other than the primary regulators, there are regional agreements and treaties with partners such as Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO), International Labour Organization (ILO), International Maritime Organization(IMO), Indian Ocean Tuna Commission(IOTC) and Regional Fisheries Management Organization(RFMO).

Despite all the outlaid structures and authorities on check, there are several Chinese owned companies still boldly cruising and bribing their way to IUU fishing in the Indian Coastal territories under chartered political blessings. These Chinese nationals and companies established in the Coastal states always play significant role in controlling bilateral trade with China hence exclusively accessing operational licenses even under opaque conditions. Operating and perpetuating China’s ideology of a ‘shared future’ are strategically excluding other competitors and taking advantage of monopoly by imposing low purchase prices on fishers while tactically excluding local communities from enjoying benefits of blue-economy.

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According to EFJ report 2023, there’s a record 138 Chinese DWF vessels believed to have operational licences in the Tanzania/ Kenya Coastal region. Among these, 95 are long liners targeting tuna & tuna-like species, 4 are refrigerated- cargo vessels while 39 are non-tuna vessels, trawlers, with target of range of species.

Between 2017 and 2023, record 86 chinese vessels were linked to IUU fishing cases and human right abuses. Half of the cases are of vessels owned and controlled by state-owned enterprises with Chinese government having partial interest. On basis of cases, the highest offenders currently operating in the region are;

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Zhejiang Ocean Family Co. Ltd – 14 cases (30 offences)
Shandong Zhonglu- 19 reported cases(43 offences) of Iuufishing/human rights abuses.
China National Agricultural Development Group Co. Ltd- 8 cases(12 offences)–This owns the largest DWF vessels and covers the largest geographical scope. Its 2 main subsidiaries associated with IUU and human rights abuse are; CNFC Overseas Fisheries Co. Ltd(COFC) and Zhongyu Global Seafood Corp. Top offences is fishing in prohibited area and absconding inspection. In 2018, It was once fined US$50,000 by DSFA of Tanzania for non-cooperative behavior and absconding inspection.The opaqueness in operations of Chinese DWF seems to be a big scheme for at-sea trans-shipment allowing IUU caught fish for laundering against the legal catch to erase origin.

The notorious vessels are interestingly dominating global seafood market from Europe, Korea, Japan to Taiwan all with a lot of ease . Back home to Coastal states, is it that China silencing the various hosting states with untenable  loans giving China field day and freedom in the Coastal waters? ..For example Kenya owes China excess of US$6 billion as at March, 2023 to finance SGR, through such schemes, bilateral talks and deals are often held with China but the finer details are never for the public.

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Is the devil in the details giving the Chinese DWF bravado to keep their impunity? Additionally, according EFJ report 2023, the local political elites and blatant bribery has enabled the Chinese vessels to operate even during closed seasons while also using illegal fishing equipment.

Corruption and economic blackmails must not be given space to supersede the marine life and magnitude of blue economy.

The public must join the fight to protect the Coastal sea from these structured and tactical destruction. Partners in the fight against IUU must call for more actions and implementation of already formed policy frameworks to fight the menace. Chinese Cruelty and bravado must stop by facing the rule of law.

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