China fishing fleet in East Sea threat to int'l law, fish stocks

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China is violating international law by fishing in waters claimed by other countries while also threatening the East Sea's biodiversity by deploying a fishing fleet, including its largest factory vessel, that could deplete fish stocks, foreign experts said.

Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam specialist at the University of New South Wales, Australia, told Thanh Nien that the fleet has only been able to operate in Truong Sa (Spratly) waters due to China's earlier ban on fishing in the northern waters when it was deployed in May.

There is concern that the Hainan Baosha 001 factory ship would exhaust the fish stocks that belong to Vietnam and the Philippines, a violation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), he said.

The 32,000-ton ship has four processing plants with 14 production lines and 600 workers to process and freeze its catch. It can process up to 2,100 tons of seafood a day, and put out to sea for nine months at a time.

China's fishing techniques could lead to the extinction of many marine resources and change the sea environment permanently, Thayer warned.

Youna Lyons and Tara Davenport said in a commentary written for the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RISS): "The deployment of China's factory fishing vessel in the South China Sea raises legitimate questions about the basis of China's claim to fish in the [East Sea]."

"South China Sea: Limits to commercial fishing by claimants," written by the research fellows at the Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore, has been posted on RISS's website.

"Even if China (rightly or wrongly) argues that it is entitled to fish in the EEZ (exclusive economic zone) claimed from the Spratlys or Paracels, it must remember that its fishing rights are not unlimited."

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China is supposed to conserve living resources of the EEZ it claimed under UNCLOS, they said, adding that it must also cooperate with other coastal countries in the management, conservation, exploration, and exploitation of the sea's living resources.

The use of China's factory vessels has the potential to "further threaten the already fragile fish stocks" in the East Sea, they said.

The fishing techniques used can also have a "potentially irreparable effect" on the marine environment, especially bottom trawling, they warned.

Marine biodiversity may also be affected as large driftnets, fixed nets, and purse seiners also generated a large proportion of non-targeted and non-commercial species, they said. 

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