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Reuters/Tommy Trenchard
Sea cucumbers, a Chinese delicacy, being fished out from off the coast of Sierra Leone.

Rogue Chinese fishing fleets are taking advantage of Ebola and pillaging West Africa’s seas

Chinese fishing fleets are operating illegally in West Africa and exploiting the region’s vast but quickly diminishing maritime resources, according to a new report by the environmental group Greenpeace. The group also accuses Chinese companies, including the state-owned China National Fisheries Corporation (CNFC), of taking advantage of the chaos of the Ebola epidemic.

“While China extended a hand in friendship during the Ebola outbreak, rogue Chinese companies were unlawfully exploiting West Africa’s marine environment. They were taking advantage of weak enforcement and supervision from local and Chinese authorities to the detriment of local fishermen and the environment,” said Greenpeace’s Rashid Kang.

As Quartz has reported, Chinese fishing around the world has increased exponentially as Chinese fisheries at home have become depleted. In Africa, Chinese fishing boats, mostly bottom trawlers, have increased from just 13 in 1985 to 462 in 2013. That’s still only a fifth of China’s total distant water fishing fleet, the largest in the world.

Greenpeace says that it has documented 183 cases of illegal fishing by Chinese companies, mostly violations like operating without a license or in prohibited areas. CNFC vessels in Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea underreported their gross tonnage, according to the report, a practice that allows companies to avoid licensing fees and operate in places where large ships are prohibited. Over the course of one month last year, the group found 16 cases of illegal fishing by Chinese-owned or flagged vessels.

One of the companies named in the report for fishing in prohibited areas, Dalian Bo Yuan Overseas Fishing Corp, dismissed the group’s claims. Zhang Hua, general manager of the company, told the Financial Times (paywall), “That is nonsense, what evidence do they have? This sort of thing is rare, the controls are strict and there could be sanctions.”

A recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that African fisheries would generate eight times more revenue for those countries than the current $400 million a year if they were fished by domestic instead of foreign fleets.

The Greenpeace report concludes: “The activities of Chinese DWF companies exporting the destructive fishing model that destroyed China’s own fisheries and environment to Africa does not fit with the mutually-beneficial partnership.”

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