Chinese boats spotted illegally transporting tuna in the Indian Ocean

MIAMI (AP) — Chinese squid vessels have been documented using wide nets to illegally catch already overfished tuna amid an increase in unregulated activity in the Indian Ocean, according to a new report from a Norway-based watchdog group that highlights growing concerns about the lack of international cooperation to protect marine species on the high seas.

The report, published by Trygg Mat Tracking on Wednesday, found that the number of squid on the high seas in the Indian Ocean – where fishing for the species is unregulated – has increased sixfold since 2016.

The vast majority of ships sailing the high seas off the coasts of Oman and Yemen were flying the flag of China, whose overseas fleet, the largest in the world, has been dogged by charges of illegal fishing, not declared and unregulated worldwide.

Behind the surge is a lack of oversight and decades of overfishing that have pushed China’s overseas fleet – officially capped at 3,000 vessels but possibly consisting of thousands more – ever further from home.

Unlike other parts of the high seas, where countries come together to jointly manage fishing areas beyond the territorial waters of any one country, there is no such organization that regulates squid caught in the Indian Ocean.

TMT, drawing on vessel tracking data and an at-sea survey by Greenpeace International, found that all squid were fishing with large nets – a practice considered far more harmful than using lures known as name jigs because it generates bycatch of non-target fish. species.

Among other fish tangled in ships’ nets and spotted onboard by drones were large species of tuna – a slow-maturing top predator whose disappearance may indicate a dying ocean. None of the 341 vessels detected operating in the area this season have been licensed to fish for tuna by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, or IOTC, which regulates catches in international waters.

Adding to concerns, TMT said five vessels active in the area then called at a port in Pakistan with 30 tonnes of skipjack and yellowfin tuna, whose population the IOTC is trying to replenish after years of overfishing.

Another indication of illegal fishing: a significant number of vessels were sailing “in the dark”, with their mandatory tracking device that gives a vessel’s position either off, transmitting intermittently or providing false identifiers.

Some of the same Chinese vessels highlighted by TMT had a history of illegal activity in other parts of the world and were spotted by satellite drifting near the borders of Oman and Yemen, where they did not have permission. hurry.

They are also known to fish for squid in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America, where The Associated Press observed similar discrepancies in tracking devices this summer.

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