PUCUSANA, Peru: Fishing boats, which leave this port daily to fish for tuna, and later squid, face an uncertain future due to an invasion of Chinese fishing boats.
Operating in international waters, there were 54 Chinese vessels in 2009. In 2020, there were 557, according to the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization.
In addition, the size of the Chinese catch has increased from 70,000 tonnes of squid per year in 2009 to 358,000 today.
Chinese fishing boats use strong lights at night to attract swarms of squid.
“It really is like the Wild West out there,” said Captain Peter Hammarstedt, campaign manager for Sea Shepherd, an ocean conservation group. “No one is responsible for the enforcement,” he told The Associated Press.
Chinese boats are now under surveillance, after hundreds of Chinese vessels were discovered fishing near the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
China began sending large fleets around the world, after depleting fishing closer to its mainland in the 1980s.
“China is not doing anything that Europe has not done in exactly the same way,” said Daniel Pauly, a prominent marine biologist at the University of British Columbia. “The difference is, everything China does is great, so you see it,” as the Associated Press reported.
Chinese fishing vessels have had skirmishes with authorities over a wide range of questionable activities, ranging from labor abuse, previous convictions for illegal fishing or violations of maritime law, including human trafficking .
The waters off Peru are home to huge schools of Humboldt squid, one of the most abundant marine species.
However, experts note that squid stocks have vanished from other oceans in recent years.
“If you have a vast resource and it’s easy to take, then it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking it’s unlimited,” said William Gilly, a Stanford University marine biologist who has spent decades studying squid, as the Associated Press reports.
In response to public outcry, in 2020 China imposed tougher penalties on companies caught in violation of international rules. China has also ordered off-season moratoriums on deep-sea squid fishing.
China is responsible for 50% of the $ 314 million in squid the United States imported in 2019, most of it sold as fried squid in restaurants.
Struggling with Chinese vessel fleets, several South American governments have proposed banning transshipments at sea and increasing the number of observers on board vessels to document catch sizes and violations.
But China has expressed opposition to these proposals.
“China doesn’t seem really interested in extending protection,” said Tabitha Mallory, a Chinese researcher at the University of Washington specializing in the country’s fisheries policies. “They follow the letter of the law but not the spirit,” she told The Associated Press.
Today, fishermen departing from Pucusana have to spend a week at sea to bring back the tow which took a day.
Local fishermen also report Chinese boats fishing illegally in Peruvian waters, but complain that the government is not enforcing the law.
“There is no maritime authority defending us,” complains Lpez, a local fisherman. “I don’t know what power the stranger has to come to my house and do whatever he wants,” he said, as reported by The Associated Press.