Peruvian fishermen fight Chinese overseas fleet

Puxana, Peru — José Lopez on an ocean warrior in the eastern Pacific proudly remembers his first catch. He was 13 years old and a local skipper had mercy on Ragamuffin’s expression and hired him as a spare. When he got home, his pocket was full of daily wages, his mother protested.

“She thought I stole my money,” Lopez recalls in between noisy greetings to a young companion who simply knows him as “Pepe.” “I had to take her to a fisherman so that she believed in me.”

Since then, fishing has become a way of life for Lopez and dozens of other micro-fishermen in Puxana, a harbor carved from barren desert-like hills south of the Peruvian capital. Over the years, the fleet thrived and Lopez earned enough money to buy a few boats and send his children to college.

But ten years ago, the tuna he once caught effortlessly began to disappear. So the fishermen turned the brightly colored boats named after the Roman Catholic icons into squids.

Now they are facing new threats. It is the Chinese pelagic fishing fleet.

Fishing boat
Fishermen prepare their boats before going out to sea in Puksana, Peru on September 20, 2021. To compete with the Chinese, local fishermen in Puksana take ever-increasing risks, adventure far from home and spend a week at sea to carry what they catch in a day. (Martin Messiah / AP photo)

According to the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO), the number of Chinese vessels lurking just outside the waters of Peru surged from 54 in 2009 to 557 in 2020. squid. Meanwhile, China’s catch increased from 70,000 tonnes in 2009 to 358,000 tonnes.

Fishing in China takes place on the high seas, outside the jurisdiction of any country, and attracts swarms of flying squids with powerful lights at night.

“It’s really like the wild west there,” said Captain Peter Hanmarstedt, director of the campaign for the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd. “No one is responsible for execution.”

The Associated Press, along with the Spanish broadcaster Univision, accompanied one of Sea Shepherd’s vessels on an 18-day voyage this summer, observing the Chinese fleet up close on the high seas off the west coast of South America.

Patrol was prompted by protests last summer when hundreds of Chinese vessels were found fishing near the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Launched in the 1980s in response to the depletion of domestic fish stocks, China’s pelagic fishing boats have evolved into a prosperous industry and the administration’s geopolitics to secure access to the world’s declining natural resources. It is part of the promotion.

The majority of the 30 vessels observed by AP show a history of allegations of labor abuse, past convictions of illegal fishing, or signs of possible violations of maritime law. In summary, these issues have been dominated by the United States for a long time, and the open ocean around the Americas, where China is joking for influence, has been a factor in attracting the worst criminals in the seafood industry. I emphasize that.

One vessel, Fu Yuan Yu 7880, is operated by an affiliate of Pingtan Marine Enterprise, a company traded on Nasdaq, and Chinese executives have canceled their US visas due to suspected trafficking. The company also faces charges of illegal fishing and forced labor around the world. Pingtan declined to comment.

South American fishing
The Chinese flag ship Zhong Yuan Yu 16 will depart on July 18, 2021 at dusk on the high seas near the Galapagos Islands. (Joshua Goodman / AP Photo)

Named after the nutrient-rich ocean currents found on the southwest coast of South America, Humboldt squid is one of the most abundant marine species. Some scientists believe that their predators, sharks and tuna, may even be prosperous because they are no longer present and are being fished.

However, experts point out the past disappearance of squid stocks elsewhere as a source of concern, even though it is unclear how many Humboldt squids remain.

US fisheries companies are beginning to look at the risks posed by China’s expansion and are seeking to leverage market power to increase transparency in squid sourcing. China accounted for about half of the $ 314 million squid imported by the United States in 2019, most of which was used as fried squid in restaurants.

One alternative is to introduce technologies such as publicly available tracking data to allow consumers to identify the ship that ultimately caught the fish.

However, increasing transparency is a challenge that the industry has been tackling for decades.

To address concerns, some South American governments have proposed several conservation measures, including banning transshipments at sea and increasing the number of ship observers to record catches and violations. bottom.

But China is against each proposal.

Without stricter controls, Lopez and his cohort would have to venture far away from home and spend a week at sea to carry what they caught in a day. That’s when they come back at all. In June, three fishermen set out to never be seen again.

In addition to the frustration of fishermen, Peru provides logistical support to the Chinese fleet, their direct competitors. According to the Peruvian government, since 2019, 212 Chinese fishing vessels have invaded Peruvian ports for repairs, crew changes and supplies.

“There is no maritime authority to defend us,” Lopez complains. He says he has lost count of the number of times he has notified authorities about Chinese vessels fishing in the waters of Peru. “I don’t know what power foreigners have to come to my house and do what they want to do.”

Associated Press