Hundreds of Chinese ships continue to plunder South America's fish stocks
by Silvina Premat

After crossing the Pacific, China’s fishing armada is now off the Argentine coast. The Argentinian government is playing down the issue, saying that it is negotiating with China, while refusing US help. Environmental groups call for international regulation.

Buenos Aires (AsiaNews) - A “floating city” of hundreds of mostly Chinese-flagged vessels, looking for squid and other species off the coasts of the Caribbean and South America,  is now approaching Argentina’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Such a presence and the imminent start of its activity, a plain and outright plunder of natural resources, is possible only because of the lack of regulation of fishing in international waters and the lack of real controls by coastal states, like Argentina.

This is taking place amid alleged negotiations between China and Argentina over a fishing agreement; meanwhile, the Kirchnerist government of President Alberto Fernández rejected US help to discourage illegal fishing.

The United States offered the services of the most modern vessel in its Coast Guard, US Coast Guard Cutter (USGC) Stone, which is currently on patrol in the South Atlantic. The Argentine Foreign Ministry turned down the offer of collaboration, noting that such a ship will be received in the next few weeks in the port of Mar del Plata only on a courtesy visit.

Argentinian authorities said that the surveillance and control of the country’s fishing and maritime areas are carried out “exclusively with the means and personnel of the Argentine State”, whose function is to protect national sovereignty and the country’s resources. In addition, they proudly note that in 2020 they captured three illegal foreign fishing vessels, “a number not reached since 2005”.

The temporary suspension of the activities of just three of the more than five hundred boats as well as the fines for fishing in the EEZ, which were increased at the end of last year to about US$ 150,000, will not affect a business worth millions.

China’s fishing armada is the same that pushed the Ecuadorian government last July to call for monitoring China and sped up a few months later an agreement between Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Colombia to adopt steps to prevent, discourage and fight illegal fishing off the Pacific shores of South America.

A number of environmental organisations are now calling on the Argentinian government to exert greater control over the country’s coast to prevent fishing in Argentina’s EEZ.

For Argentinian environmentalist Diego Moreno, an independent consultant and a former environmental policy secretary, the underlying issue is not the arrival of some boats engaging in illegal practices since the squid stock, or that of any other species, is the same whether it is 199th or the 201st mile.

Feasible options exist for what seems like a dead end, however complex they may be. They include, according to Moreno, regional fishing agreements within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Sea (UNCLOS), joint initiatives in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity for fishing in areas outside national jurisdictions, and bilateral agreements between countries.

The expert notes that the negotiations to manage shared resources in the South Atlantic have so far been held back by the dispute with the United Kingdom over the territorial rights of the Falkland Islands. So he is betting on international regulatory standards, “an issue that will undoubtedly be central to the environmental agenda of the coming decade.”