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Report: China ranks worst on global illegal fishing index

An index launched in
February scores countries according to their degree of exposure to and quality
of response towards illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

received the worst score out of 152 coastal states assessed worldwide.

is a key finding, given that China is in many respects the most important
fishing nation on the planet, conferring its flag to a vast fleet of thousands
of fishing vessels and fish carriers, operating not just within the Chinese
exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but across all major ocean basins. China is
also one of the three most important global seafood markets, ranking as the top
seafood exporter and third-largest importer.
fishing robs economies and societies of catches worth billions of dollars each
year. It has huge environmental impacts on fish stocks through impairing
scientific research and fisheries management efforts. It helps prevent
governments and regional fisheries management organisations from achieving
sustainable fisheries. The elimination of IUU fishing is an internationally
agreed target under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
IUU fishing is not the only phenomenon to blame – ineffective fisheries
management and “bad” subsidies also play their part – it is a key
issue for the global community to solve if fisheries are to be substantially
A basis for
new index was developed by Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management, a fishery
and aquaculture consulting firm, and the Global Initiative Against Transnational
Organized Crime, a Geneva-based NGO network of experts focusing on crime in
human rights, democracy, governance and natural resource exploitation.
index provides a measure of the degree to which all coastal states are exposed
to IUU fishing, and how they respond. While the scores indicate the risk of IUU
fishing they do not provide a metric for establishing actual levels.
index consists of 40 indicators, based mostly on published information, but
also on a short survey. Individual indicators are weighted as low, medium or
high, depending on the strength of their apparent link to IUU fishing.
indicator falls into four groups of “responsibilities” – coastal, flag, port
and general – and one of the three “types” – vulnerability, prevalence and
response to IUU fishing.
are given a score out of five across their responsibilities and types (one
being the best, and five the worst). The index provides a new basis
for comparing nations.
serve to identify weaknesses where immediate action to combat IUU fishing is
required. However, points of poor performance need also to be addressed outside
of the index, as its indicators only embody a limited range of factors.
index is a tool that can be used to identify broad areas of better and poorer
performance at national and regional levels, and shine a light on those
countries, regions and responsibilities where action would be most beneficial.
China’s scores and
index reveals that China faces its most formidable challenges as a flag and a
port state, where it ranks as the worst performer globally. Its ranks in the
coastal state and general group of responsibilities are marginally better
(13th and fourth respectively).
a flag state, China ranks as the most vulnerable to IUU fishing, the most
prevalent in terms of incidents, and the second poorest for response. With a
score of 4.7, this is China’s most significant result. It indicates that in its
capacity as a flag state, China is faltering.
vast and global fleet of fishing vessels makes it particularly prone to
infringements in far-flung corners of the world. Chinese vessels continue to be
seen as a driver of IUU fishing globally, based on the number of them on IUU
lists, the views held by fisheries observers, MCS (monitoring, control and
surveillance) practitioners, and the number of negative news items appearing in
the international press.
terms of response, China falls short on proactively engaging with the
international community to meet its responsibilities. It also has a poor track
record of complying with the flag state obligations of regional fisheries
management organisations. 
Instead of emerging as an international leader, China
is seen by many as a rogue flag state exploiting global fisheries without
regard for international frameworks – regardless of whether these be binding,
voluntary or suggested best practice.
a port state, China obtains its second poorest score (4.67). Vulnerabilities
relate to the vast number of fishing ports requiring oversight, and the large
number of foreign fishing vessels making port calls – also requiring dedicated
The prevalence of IUU fishing-related transactions taking place in
Chinese ports is deemed to be very high, a perception partly driven by China’s
limited proactive response. China is not a party to the 2009 Port States
Measures Agreement, has not designated ports to which the entry of foreign
fishing vessels is limited, and its compliance with the port state obligations
of regional fisheries management organisations is also weak.
and response scores are not combined in the overall index score. If China’s
weak response as a flag and port state had been cross-linked with its high
vulnerability scores in the same domains of responsibility – a reasonable
approach from a total risk-quantification perspective – its overall score would
have been even worse.
looking at risk types overall ­– all responsibilities combined – China scores
worst on both vulnerability to and prevalence of IUU fishing. While the gap on
overall vulnerability between China and the two “runners-up” (Japan 4.28 and
Russia 4.22) is relatively small, the gaps for overall prevalence (4.19) to the
second-ranked (Taiwan 3.56) and third-ranked (Vietnam 3.11) are immense –
underscoring the enormous and rather unique risks of IUU fishing that confront
China. In terms of the overall response score (3.37), China is ranked 22nd, and
with a rather wide gap separating it from the worst performer (Singapore 4.29).
overall analysis yields a picture in which the exposure of China to IUU fishing
(vulnerability and prevalence) are of the highest order globally, while its
response to address these risks – overall – is largely underwhelming.
Should and could
take action
is a limit to the action that can be undertaken to mitigate vulnerability to
IUU fishing. Some factors, like the size of China’s exclusive economic zone,
cannot be effectively mitigated. Others, like the resolution of grey areas, or
the number of fishing ports generally take a long time to effectively address.
the index clearly shows that China could and should take action to vigorously
upgrade its weak and insufficient approach, in some clearly identified areas,
to reduce both vulnerability and prevalence of IUU fishing risk.
the international stage, China – as a flag state – has an immediate stake,
responsibility and duty to act firmly and with resolve to fishing vessels
flying its flag, including under the auspices of regional fisheries management
organisations, and more generally under the provisions of international law,
ensuring that their operations comply with applicable norms and rules.
China’s growing consumer market and demand for seafood, the need for developing
and implementing effective port state measures, as well as market-based tools
and measures to address IUU fishing and trade in IUU products, is likely to
rapidly grow in importance in the years to come.
Gilles Hosch is an
independent fisheries expert focusing on the development and assessment of
systems to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

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