China has the most fishing boats in the world and boy do they ever get around. Recently, three Chinese ships found themselves off the coast of South Africa, where they were captured by authorities.
South African officials believed that the Chinese ships were illegally fishing for squid within the country’s 200 nautical mile special economic exclusion zone. When asked to sail to port for inspection, the Chinese ships tried to make a break for it instead, but were eventually tracked down and captured, Reuters reports.
Once back at port, the three vessels were searched and nearly 600 tonnes of squid was found on board, but not even a single local fishing permit. Around 100 crew members have been detained while the captains face fines or jail times.
This fishing season, Chinese ships have been especially vulnerable to being caught themselves. In March, the Argentinian Coast Guard was forced to sink a Chinese trawler that was illegally fishing off its coast. Then, just a week later, Indonesia seized a Chinese fishing boat operating within its 200 nautical mile zone. As it was towing the boat back to port, a Chinese Coast Guard ship approached and rammed the Chinese fishing boat, forcing Indonesian sailors to let the boat free.
In response to this incident, Indonesia blew up 23 foreign trawlers seized for illegally fishing in Indonesian waters, hoping to send a message China’s way. For years, China has been accused of using its fishing boat fleet to secure its claim in the South China Sea, paying captains extra for fishing in disputed areas and even sending them to clash with rival fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines.
However, Chinese fishermen haven’t just been detained by Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, but also by Russia, North Korea, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Argentina and now South Africa. The major force driving Chinese fishermen seems not to government directives, but insatiable domestic demand for seafood.
Chinese fish-consumption is twice the global average and thanks to disastrous overfishing nearby, there really never is enough fish in the sea, causing Chinese fishermen to sail further and further from home, where they occasionally run into trouble or drive adorable animals to the brink of extinction.