Tag Archives: fishermen

Ecological Hooliganism: smashing the coral triangle

Giant clams are one of Buddhism’s “seven treasures”, along with gold and lapis lazuli. China’s new rich prize their shells as showy ornaments. Each can fetch as much as $3,000, so each haul was worth a fortune to the fishermen of Tanmen, a little fishing port on the island province of Hainan in Southern China.  But Chinese government banned the clam fishing…
The ban is surely welcome. [S]ome of the most biodiverse coral reefs on Earth have been destroyed in the South China Sea thanks to giant-clam poachers. In the shallow waters of the reefs, crews use the propellers of small boats launched from each mother-ship to smash the surrounding coral and thus free the clams anchored fast to the reef. Though the practice has received little attention, it is ecological hooliganism, and most of it has been perpetrated by boats from Tanmen.

The fishermen have not been the reefs’ only adversaries. China’s huge and (to its neighbours) controversial programme since late 2013 of building artificial islands around disputed rocks and reefs in the South China Sea has paved over another 22 square miles of coral. When the two activities are taken together, Mr McManus says, about 10% of the reefs in the vast Spratly archipelago to the south of Hainan, and 8% of those in the Paracel islands, between Hainan and Vietnam, have been destroyed. Given that Asia’s Coral Triangle, of which the South China Sea forms the apex, is a single, interconnected ecosystem, the repercussions of these activities, environmentalists say, will be huge…

But still..A few streets back from the waterfront in Tanmen, elegant boutiques sell jewellery and curios fashioned from the giant clams—and clam shells are still stacked outside. And the provincial money that is so clearly being lavished on Tanmen sits oddly with the illegality of its townsfolk’s way of life. .. [I] n 2013 President Xi Jinping himself showed up in Tanmen. Boarding one of the trawlers he declared to the crew, according to state media, “You guys do a great job!” The media did not report that a year earlier the trawler in question had been caught in the territorial waters of Palau, and in the confrontation with local police that followed one of the crew members had been shot dead. In Chinese propaganda, Tanmen’s fishermen are patriots and model workers.

Over the years Tanmen’s fishermen have become part of China’s power projection in the South China Sea, an unofficial but vital adjunct to the Chinese navy and coastguard. The biggest trawlers are organised into a maritime militia ready to fight a “people’s war” at sea. Though generally unarmed, they undergo training and take orders from the navy.

They are facts on the water, and have been involved in China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea. In 2012 boats from Tanmen were part of a navy-led operation to wrest control of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, chasing Philippine fishing vessels away. In 2014 they escorted a Chinese oil rig that was being towed provocatively into Vietnamese waters. On land, Vietnamese expressed their rage by ransacking factories they thought were Chinese-owned. At sea, boats from Tanmen rammed and sank one of the rickety Vietnamese vessels coming out to protest.

Mysteriously, though, the giant trawlers of the Tanmen militia are now rafted up, their crews sent home. Perhaps China is keen to lower tensions in the region….A policy introduced in January aims to cut the catch from China’s fishing fleet, the world’s largest, by a sixth, in the name of sustainability. That will hit Tanmen’s fishermen hard, making them less willing to defend China’s claims. Francis Drake would have understood: pirates are patriotic, but usually only when it pays.

Excerpts from Clamshell Phoneys, Economist, Mar. 25, 2017

Fishermen on Frontlines: militarization of seas

indonesia blows up foreign fishing boats

On April 5th, 2016, Indonesia’s maritime-affairs minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, watched live feed from seven different places as 23 Malaysian and Vietnamese trawlers, seized for illegal fishing in Indonesian waters, were blown to smithereens…

Indonesia is already seething with anger at China’s reaction to an incident last month in which a Chinese coastguard cutter rammed free a Chinese fishing boat as the Indonesian authorities were towing it to port, having just caught it poaching in waters off Indonesia’s Natuna islands…. In fact, it seems almost certain. Indonesia’s possession of the Natunas is undisputed, and under international law the Chinese were well inside its “exclusive economic zone”. Yet China defended the crew by claiming they were in waters that were “traditional Chinese fishing grounds”. The waters are inside the sweeping “nine-dash line” that China draws on its maps (and even passports) to mark its claim over almost the entire South China Sea.

Chinese fishermen have been detained in Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, all of whose maritime claims overlap with or mirror China’s. But it is not just in contested waters that they get into trouble. Chinese have also been detained in the Russian Far East, North Korea and Sri Lanka in recent years. In 2011 a Chinese fisherman stabbed a South Korean coastguard to death. The next year one was killed by the police in Palau, a tiny Pacific republic. Farther afield, on December of 2015 two dozen African countries called on China to stop illegal fishing off west Africa. And on April 2016 our Chinese fishermen were freed from detention in Argentina.

China’s government sees food security as a priority and fishing as a good source of jobs (14m of them). In 2013 the president, Xi Jinping, visited Tanmen, a fishing port on the southern island of Hainan, and urged fishermen there to “build bigger ships and venture even farther into the oceans and catch bigger fish.” The government provides subsidies for new boats, fuel and navigation aids….Fishing can have strategic uses. Like China’s splurge on building artificial islands on reefs in the South China Sea, the habitual presence of big numbers of Chinese boats in disputed waters…underpins the notion that China has “traditional” claims. And at times fishermen have indeed been used to advance those claims. In 1974 armed fishing trawlers acted as China’s advance guard as it seized the southern part of the Paracel archipelago from the regime of the former South Vietnam. Similar tactics worked in driving the Philippines out of two other parts of the South China Sea: Mischief Reef in 1995 and Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

Giving state backing to poaching or to fishing in contested waters is a dangerous ploy, however. The grave rise in tension with Japan over the uninhabited Senkaku, or Diaoyu, islands in the East China Sea dates back to September 2010, when a Chinese trawler, apprehended for illegal fishing, rammed a Japanese coastguard vessel. As the seas become more militarised, the risks of clashes mount. To date, the Chinese navy has rarely been involved. But some Chinese fishing ports have expanded their “maritime militias”—ie, armed civilian vessels—and both China and other coastguards are becoming better armed.

Excerpts from Trawling for trouble: Why do Chinese fishermen keep getting arrested, Economist,  Apr. 16, 2016, at 34

Rights-Based Fisheries as an Answer to Unregulated Fishing

New research from Chris Costello and Steve Gaines of the University of California, Santa Barbara (under peer review for the journal Science) reckons that those unassessed fisheries are gravely depleted, with on average about half the fishy biomass they need to maintain their maximum annual yield (the usual definition of sustainability). Another analysis, using the same method, of around 1,500 fisheries last year reached similar results. Both suggest the least-known fisheries are the most damaged.  This conflicts with the sunnier analysis of industrial fishing fleets, based largely on expensive studies of a few hundred fisheries, mostly in European and American waters. These are depleted but generally recovering, thanks to recent reforms.

That these turn out to be exceptional cases is unsurprising. The rapacious habits of fishermen and perverse effects of the subsidies some extract from governments are well known. Sometimes overfishing stems from ignorance and sometimes from short-termism, exacerbated by the belief that whatever they don’t take, others will. The cost is enormous. Besides harbouring millions of species, fisheries provide the primary source of protein for a billion people and livelihoods for hundreds of millions, most of them poor. The World Bank reckons that benefits (such as income and food) lost by overfishing between 1974 and 2008 amount to $2.2 trillion.

More happily, the new assessment reckons that only 2% of fisheries have so far collapsed—defined as a fall to less than a tenth of the historical biomass. Previous estimates were higher, at up to 30%. Yet incidences of collapse are rising, the researchers stress; and once collapsed, fisheries do not necessarily recover. Shoals of northern cod have not yet returned to the Grand Banks fishery off Newfoundland, which collapsed in 1992……

Above all, fishermen need better incentives to manage stocks properly. This has been tried in several ways. In Iceland and elsewhere they have a tradable share of a scientifically determined quota. Or they can be given long-term rights—akin to property rights—over an expanse of sea….

According to a 2008 study by Messrs Costello, Gaines and others, this approach works: fisheries where such rights are in force are only half as likely to collapse as the average fishery. Yet the spread of such schemes has been woefully slow; only a few hundred mainly rich-world fisheries have adopted them so far. Though sensible in theory, rights-based schemes are hard to get right in practice. Getting locals on board can be difficult and is a slow process at best. If the target species is especially valuable or slow-growing, overfishing (at least in narrow economic terms) is rational. That may make monitoring and enforcement impractically costly.

Rights-based fisheries are not the only answer to overfishing. In particular, a lot more of the sea needs protecting from any fishing at all. Yet there are few better ways to make fishermen control themselves.

Fisheries: Lost property, Economist, Feb. 25, 2012, at 71