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China''s super trawlers are stripping the ocean bare as its hunger for seafood grows
by Matthew Carney
Captain Lin Jianchang is a fisherman born and bred. Sitting on his small trawler mending nets, the 54-year-old says times are tough.
"When I started to fish we could fill our boat completely in an hour, we couldn''t move, there were fish everywhere," he says. "Now there''s less fish and it''s rare to get a big one."
The world''s fisheries are in crisis. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates 90 per cent of them have collapsed and China is the major player in their demise.
By a long way, China has the world''s biggest deep sea fishing fleet that strip mines the world''s oceans.
The Chinese government heavily subsidises the fleet in an attempt to satisfy the country''s insatiable appetite for seafood, which accounts for a third of world consumption.
In the port city of Zhoushan on China''s east coast, 500 trawlers raced out to sea on the first day of the season.
Every season is harder than the last. The fleet have to head deeper into the ocean and stay for longer for a decent catch. The seas around China have virtually no fish left but the commercial fishing fleet is still huge.
With an estimated 200,000 boats, it accounts for nearly half of the world''s fishing activity.
A dozen trawlers returned to Zhoushan with their first catch of the season — crab. The hauls were good but well under half of previous years.
These days the smaller trawlers and boats mostly catch "trash fish" — tiny fish with little value, used as feed for animals and in aqua farms.
Like most others in Zhoushan, the only thing keeping Captain Lin and his crew afloat are government subsidies.
"The diesel fuel and fixing the boat would cost me 200,000 yuan ($40,000). The government subsidises me more than 100,000 yuan ($20,000)," Captain Lin said.
The Chinese government has given $28 billion in subsidies over the last four years to its fishing fleet.
Subsidies might keep people in jobs, but overfishing is threatening the entire ecosystem.
Wang Dong, captain of a small trawler, said China''s 2,600 super trawlers make it almost impossible to survive.
"The stock of fish is definitely less, the fishnets they have kill everything," Captain Wang said. "The mega trawlers have bigger engines, so when they pass there''s hardly any fish left — big or small."
The government says it is taking action, at least with the smaller fleets it can control closer to home.
Li Wenlong is the general manager of Zhoushan Fishery company and in charge of safety and regulation of the Zhoushan fleet.
"Now we are taking three steps; extending the period of fishing bans, releasing more baby fish and starting to reduce the number of boats to reduce production," Mr Li said.
But Chinese authorities acknowledge on the high seas their super trawlers are difficult to police.
On paper there are tough new laws and punishments but often the super trawlers under-report or do not record their catches. Many experts say it is too little too late to save the world''s fish stocks.
Zhou Wei is the ocean project manager at Greenpeace East Asia.
"We are at crisis point, the world fish stocks are depleted," Ms Zhou said. "We''ve lost two-thirds of the large predator fish. Ninety per cent of the world''s fish stocks have being fully exploited or are overexploited. "Our fleets continue to use destructive methods which destroy domestic fisheries."
China''s super trawlers are targeting the seas in North West Pacific, South America and Western Africa.
Not only are they destroying fish stocks, but they are also wiping out poorer subsistent communities.
Greenpeace East Asia has recently done a study of the super trawler''s impact in Western Africa.
"In Western Africa, seven million people rely on fish for income and employment, many more rely on fish for food and animal protein," Ms Zhou said. "To the local people it''s their livelihood but to the industrial fishing fleets it''s a business."
Demand is driving the crisis. China''s rising wealth means seafood, once considered a delicacy, is now widely consumed.
There is little awareness of sustainability in China''s public and conservationists say education campaigns are desperately needed.
Many experts fear if China and other countries do not change their fishing models, there will be very little left for the next generation.


The crises no one can avoid - or allow to continue
by Darren Walker
Rights+Resources, Ford Foundation, agencies
The same economic forces that worsen climate change also deepen inequality for poor and rural communities.
Too often we talk about climate change and inequality as though they were separate issues. When we talk about climate change, our conversations tend to focus on the earth’s systems rising temperatures and sea levels and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—and the megastorms they produce, like hurricanes and even the wildfires still raging in California.
When we talk about inequality, our focus is typically on social and economic concerns like poverty, jobs, and the cost of living.
But whether we debate particles of carbon per million, or the widening gap between rich and poor and inequalities based on race, gender, physical ability, citizenship and migration status, these global crises are actually the same conversation. To make progress, we must see them as inextricably linked.
The same economic forces that deplete natural resources and worsen climate change also deepen inequality for poor and rural communities worldwide. And the same systemic flaws that drive inequality and prejudice, discrimination, lack of political influence and disregard for human rights—leave these communities without the influence to protect the resources that we all need to slow climate change.
Consider indigenous people around the world. Having faced generations of discrimination from colonial and post-colonial governments, these communities have been continually excluded from decision-making that impacts their lives and livelihoods.
Even though indigenous people and rural communities have customary claims to two-thirds of the world’s land, they have ownership rights to only 10 percent. This disparity pits these communities against those who would ravage the land for profit, including illegal loggers, drug dealers, predatory corporations, and even government agencies driving massive infrastructure projects with little regard for human impact.
Meanwhile, those who defend the land put their families and lives at risk. According to Global Witness, in 2017 alone, 207 environmental defenders were killed while advocating for land and community survival across Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
These ongoing attacks on forests and their defenders have implications for all of us. New trees, plants, soils and other natural resources on these lands soak up tremendous amounts of carbon and thus serve as a storehouse for greenhouse gas emissions. When these forests are cut down, enormous amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere, and this essential bulwark against global climate change is lost.
To think that we might address climate change without addressing the inequalities that perpetuate it is a grave mistake, almost as bad as denying that these problems exist in the first place. Fortunately, the communities most affected can also be the source of meaningful solutions.
Consider the Yurok Tribe in northern California, who are working on the front lines to make deadly forest fires a thing of the past. Yurok experts are training tribal members and state and local fire agencies to conduct controlled burns that remove undergrowth and make space for more fire-resistant trees to grow in its place.
Along with such customary practices, new technologies are helping indigenous communities protect their lands and their rights. With the help of organizations like Digital Democracy, indigenous people throughout the Amazon can map their lands and provide evidence when governments and companies engage in illegal activities.
In these ways and others, indigenous people are doing their part, managing their lands as a legacy of their ancestors and for the benefit of future generations. Now it’s time for all of us to help, to fight for the rights of these communities, and to see the connections between how we treat people and how we treat the planet.
Going forward, we must be mindful of those on the front lines of both crises. We must honor the experiences of indigenous people, of poor people, of women and girls who live in these communities, and learn to combine traditional practices with new technologies and tools.
We cannot afford to pay attention only to the most visible effects of global climate change, like the unprecedented fires. No matter our role in society, all of us have a stake in fighting the twin crises of climate change and inequality. To do that, we must listen to, lift up, and defend those most affected.
* Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation.

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