Will the ranking of Chinese fishing companies make them more sustainable?

Now in its second year, the compliance ranking aims to encourage rather than force deep-sea fishing companies to improve their management systems

Chinese squid fishing vessels in Argentina’s EEZ (archive image)

Posted on Sep 13, 2021 5:00 PM by

China Ocean Dialogue

[By Zhou Chen]

Commenting on the state of deep-sea fishing in China, Zhang Xianliang, an official with the Fisheries Bureau of the Ministry of Agriculture, said there were many with little resistance to risk and poor management. “We are still seeing regulatory violations and safety incidents in overseas waters,” he said, stressing the need to change the way the industry develops.

As part of resolving the issue, in March this year, the Department of Agriculture released its second annual Compliance Notes for Deep Sea Fishing Companies (DWFs).

The China National Fisheries Corporation came out on top with 106.1 points. In last place was Zhoushan Zhenyang DWF Ltd, with 54.7.

China has the largest DWF fleet in the world, so how these vessels are regulated is of international concern. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing threatens the sustainability of fish populations and the fishing industry itself. Thus, China has implemented a number of new regulatory measures, including this annual rating of DWF companies.

Sally Yozell, senior fellow and director of the environmental security program at the Stimson Center, a US think tank, says “it’s fantastic that China is starting to recognize the problems of IUU fishing with its fleet” and is taking “very good” action. positive ”.

DWF Company Ranking

This was the second year of publication of the rankings, with 180 companies assessed on their compliance with Chinese and international DWF regulations.

The process involves each company evaluating its own performance. This assessment is then verified by the local fisheries authorities, before being sent to the Ministry of Agriculture for publication.

According to the ministry’s website, 42 factors are taken into account, in four areas: internal rules; supervision and management; compliance and innovation; and offenses.

The “internal rules” designate internal governance, safety and crew management. “Supervision and Management” examines whether or not the company’s fleet is undergoing the required supervision and reports all relevant data. “Compliance and innovation” covers the use of sustainable equipment and methods, as well as the voluntary use of up-to-date monitoring and traceability systems. “Violations” refer to violations of laws and regulations, including unlicensed fishing, illegal cross-border fishing, and failure to keep vessel monitoring systems activated.

Companies earn points for complying with regulations and lose points for infringements. However, the Department of Agriculture only publishes an overall score for each company – details on how these numbers were achieved are not being made public.

Zhou Wei, ocean campaign manager at Greenpeace East Asia, believes the top three of these areas can be broadly assessed through daily business records. But collecting information on regulatory infractions could be more complex.

She points out that companies have little incentive to provide proof of their own breaches and that it can be difficult for authorities and technical support agencies to verify submitted data. The technology currently in use does not allow all activities of a DWF vessel to be monitored in all weather. It is therefore still possible that infringements may pass under the radar of regulators.

Companies submit information and supporting documents on their regulatory compliance, which is then audited by provincial fisheries authorities, with the help of technical assistance agencies such as Shanghai Ocean University and China Distant -Water Fisheries Association.

Zhou Wei points out that the Chinese government will not be aware of violations committed by Chinese vessels in exclusive economic zones of other countries unless an information-sharing agreement is in place with the host government.

To fill this information gap, says Zhou Wei, Chinese regulators and technical assistance agencies will need to actively collect information. In addition, greater transparency – such as the regular publication of the names of Chinese DWF vessels – would encourage oversight by civil society and the public.

“In the United States, basically when our companies are not in compliance, we fine them. We put them in jail, ”says Sally Yozell. “The important question is how transparent China will be with this [compliance] The data? How will this data be used during law enforcement? “

As far as she knows, China’s DWF business ranking system is unique. Zhou Wei considers that the system is still in a trial period and therefore the results should not be used for rewards or punishments. So far, there has been no report on this.

“China has the world’s largest deep-sea fishing fleet. He fishes all over the world, ”Yozell explains. She believes publishing detailed information on DWF companies would help countries in West Africa, Pacific, East Africa and South America assess them before providing fishing licenses. .

International pressure

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the classification system is based on the experiences of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). It aims to “encourage” rather than force companies to “improve their management systems and implement strict monitoring measures… avoiding illegal behavior”. In other words, a high ranking can make a business look good, while a low ranking can lead to stigma. The ministry also said it plans to use compliance data as a factor in DWF licensing and industry support.

China is a member of eight RFMOs:

  • The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
  • The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission
  • Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission
  • The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission
  • The North Pacific Fisheries Commission
  • The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization
  • The Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement
  • The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources

Julian Chen, fishing industry researcher at Greenovation Hub, a Beijing-based NGO, said RFMOs set rules for governments and fishing vessels to restrict fishing activity, conserve resources fisheries and ensure the sustainable development of regional fisheries. China’s DWF Rating essentially translates RFMO compliance requirements and China’s DWF Management Rules into a rating system.

Chen explained that RFMO surveillance relies both on monitoring real-time location data, as well as on cooperation with port states, coastal states and flag states. Port states control the landed catches, while coastal states can patrol nearby waters through the coast guard. He says that countries that generally fish “have a central authority aware of the movements of their fleets, and they are obliged to take administrative or judicial action against the vessels when they are informed of violations by RFMOs”.

According to Chen, RFMO standards are becoming more stringent, with a ripple effect on compliance requirements. Countries with more rigorous fisheries management are also trying to export their standards, which puts other countries under pressure.

China strengthens DWF management

According to a 2020 Ministry of Agriculture white paper on DWF compliance, at the end of 2019, China had 178 registered DWF companies, operating 2,701 fishing vessels. Of these, 1,589 fished on the high seas in the Pacific, Indian, Atlantic and Antarctic Oceans, as well as in the national waters of other countries.

The 13th five-year plan (2016-20) for the DWF sector provided that, in order to protect fishery resources, there would “in principle” no longer be licenses for DWF companies or vessels, and the fleet would not exceed 3,000 ships.

“Keeping the capacity under control will also help fight IUU fishing,” said Zhou Wei. “If there is too much capacity, vessels are more likely to risk breaking the rules as they compete for catches.” It expects these measures to continue during the period of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).

Sally Yozell thinks China could go further, by removing fuel subsidies, which encourage overcapacity and overfishing. These subsidies mean that larger vessels spend more time at sea and catch more fish.

Zhou Wei says China has toughened up the DWF industry in recent years, with new or revised regulations, and some measures appear to be very strict compared to those in other countries. For example, Chinese vessels are required to report their location to the Agriculture Ministry every hour, up from four hours previously, and observers are now required on all transshipment vessels.

A 2020 revision of the DWF regulations created a “blacklist,” which will see business executives, managers and captains temporarily banned from the industry if they are found to be involved in violations of the law. regulations.

Zhou Wei says the blacklist targets individuals, while the ranking system focuses on businesses – different approaches, both aimed at improving DWF management.

“Reasonable oversight of civil society and the public can also encourage companies to improve their compliance,” Zhou says. She also points out that a review of investigations and sanctions against DWF companies in recent years shows that these often come from reports from Chinese or international NGOs, or from the public.

China still needs to improve its systems for monitoring DWF activities. The agriculture ministry said China supports the fight against IUU fishing through port surveillance and is actively considering joining the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Agreement on relevant measures. State of the port, to implement inter-ministerial cooperation and to regularly improve its capacity to carry out port controls.

Sally Yozell hopes China signs the deal. “The traceability of seafood is expanding all over the world,” which means better mechanisms to prevent IUU fish from reaching the market, she says.

She adds that the fight against IUU fishing will not make fish more expensive or reduce fish consumption. But IUU fishing will cause fish to disappear more quickly from the ocean, hurting compliant businesses. Creating a fairer market will mean more sustainable fishing and more wild fish available for consumption.

Zhou Chen is a senior environmental journalist, previously at Caixin Media and the Paper. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada, and is the climate justice reporter at Ricochet.

This article is courtesy of China Dialogue Ocean and can be found in its original form here.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.

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