Chinese fleet target unregulated squid fishery

A new report from FISH-i Africa ‘Squid capture in the Northwest Indian Ocean: unregulated fishing on the high seas’ outlines the activity and provides an analysis of the increasing levels of fishing activity by a fleet of Chinese owned vessels targeting squid in the Northwest Indian Ocean.

The FISH-i Africa Task Force has been tracking and analysing satellite data for this fleet in the Northwest Indian Ocean since January 2015 when four vessels were initially identified to be active in the area. The fleet has subsequently increased in number and by February 2017 as many as 53 vessels had been identified as actively engaged in the squid fishery in this region. Many of the vessels identified appear to alternate their fishing activities between this section of the Indian Ocean between November and April, moving to the North West Pacific, an area frequented by vessels targeting squid, during May to October.

In addition to fishing vessels a number of refrigerated cargo vessels, or reefers, have been tracked, indicating that at sea transhipment is taking place, with the catch being taken to Chinese ports for offloading. Between November 2016 and April 2017 there were 19 reefers active in the area, all of which had owners domiciled in China. Among these reefers was the HAI FA, which is subject to an INTERPOL Purple Notice at the request of Indonesia for suspected illegal transhipment and unauthorised imports/exports of fish.

Analysis of satellite vessel tracking data shows that the squid vessels appear to operate exclusively in the high seas, avoiding exclusive economic zones. Although this fishing activity is taking place within the area of competence of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), the species being targeted do not fall within the scope of the IOTC. In fact, this section of sea is not covered by any regional fisheries management arrangement that addresses squid and therefore there is no regulatory framework in place.

With no applicable regulations and no conservation and management measures governing this emerging squid fishery, there are several potential concerns, including the risk of overexploitation that could lead to a demise or even crash of the squid stock. Squid represent an important link between the massive biomass of lower trophic levels and oceanic predators in many if not all pelagic food webs.[1] Squid are important prey for 12 predatory species in the Western Indian Ocean, especially bigeye tuna and swordfish.[2]

Squid account for an estimated 6-9 per cent of global fish trade, with more than half of the landings of China’s distant water fishing (DWF) fleet comprised of squid.[3] The global squid fishery is experiencing considerable growth as more fishers move away from catching conventional finfish, instead targeting species in lower trophic levels.[4]

Concerns are also being raised over the growing demand for seafood in China that is fuelling the expansion and increased subsidisation of its distant water fleet. The Chinese fleet receives tax exemptions, fuel subsidies and vessel construction subsidies – with many large fishing companies relying on these to make a profit.[5]

Sandy Davies from Stop Illegal Fishing commented “As demand for seafood increases, fishing operators searching for new fisheries will target previously less explored areas on the high seas. Some of these areas and/or some of the species in these fisheries fall outside of any management frameworks. Operations, such as the squid fishery presented in this report, are an example of this gap and of the challenge to monitor and manage these fisheries when information on catch and effort are only available to the flag State. There is a risk that this fishery may cause negative impacts, including on important commercial and non-commercial species in the food chain, before any clear understanding of sustainable yields has been developed, and an appropriate management framework has been put in place.”

The report can be downloaded here.





[1] Young et al., Deep-Sea Research II 95 (2013) 3–64, The role of squids in pelagic ecosystems: An overview, 3.

[2] Young et al., Deep-Sea Research II 95 (2013) 3–64, The role of squids in pelagic ecosystems: An overview, 3.


[4] Ibid, 93.

[5] Greenpeace, Give a Man a Fish—Five Facts on China’s Distant Water Fishing Subsidies, 6. Access here.