On April 1st China announced a new policy limiting the number of boats in five squid fishing zones, some in the Southeast Pacific and Southwest Atlantic. The policy that got put into place follows the reopening of the squid spawning grounds that were closed since the summer of 2020 for its distant-water fishing (DWF) fleet.
The Ministry of Agriculture emphasized that China’s squid fleet would not be enlarged in January. The number of boats authorized to work in certain fishing regions for a year would be limited. The initiative to reel in the amount of squid fishing was reiterated in February via a document about the “high-quality” development of the DWF sector during the 14th Five Year Plan period (2021-25).
After seeing the scientific evidence and hearing what scientists believe could lead to long-term repercussions at the annual SPRFMO meeting, China proposed amending conservation measures to limit fishing efforts so that countries that do not currently have authorized vessels or fishing activities want to fish would get restrictions of boat numbers and tonnage.
The policy calls for tighter administrative approval and performance evaluation systems for China’s giant fleet and promises “active conservation of high-seas squid resources” and better supervision of squid landings in Chinese ports.
China’s actions show positive movement toward the idea of marine conservation. Wang Songlin, president and founder of the Qingdao Marine Conservation Society, said that China is moving away from extensive growth and controlling squid-jigging boat numbers due to their concern for the long-term sustainability of squid populations and to ensure the economic sustainability of China’s squid fishing.
As the country accounts for half of all high seas squid fishing, China is also planning on a five-year roll-out of electronic fishing logs and fishery observers, alongside exploring quotas for squid fishing and systems to prove squid has been caught legally.
China has over 700 vessels authorized to be in SPRFMO waters, with 669 fishing boats – more than any other country. Several countries, including China, have developed models of squid populations to help in fishery management, but accurate assessments are complex due to the lifespan and sensitivity of the squid.
A report last September stated that the scientific committee recommended the “fishing effort in the squid fishery be limited by both the number of vessels and the total gross tonnage of squid-jigging vessels.”
The co-head of the squid-jigging technology group at the China Distant Water Fisheries Association, Chen Xinjun, suggested that China should encourage the formation of an international organization for responsible squid fishing and long-term population monitoring and increased international collaboration. Having an organization as such could promote healthy discussions on issues like the stewardship of squid resources, vessel management, tackling IUU fishing, and working with others to explore sustainable development of the global squid fishing industry.
As the ocean becomes more political through policies, many nations think it is a pawn in the game of life. Ironically, it has an ecosystem that continues to change with our societal policies.
Many would agree with Chen Xinjun’s offering of creating an international organization where politics can no longer pollute conversations about the ocean.