China engages in fishing ban PR stunt | Oceana

China engages in fishing ban PR stunt

Oceana finds China “protected” waters where squid fishing rarely occurred

Press Release Date: August 10, 2023

Location: Washington, DC


Megan Jordan | email:
Megan Jordan

A new Oceana analysis finds that China’s self-imposed annual squid fishing bans avoid areas where their vessels actually fish — failing to address the fleet’s notorious unregulated fishing footprint on the high seas. China says it has implemented this latest ban to help rebuild the squid population in the northern Indian Ocean. The closure, that runs from July until September, is in an area where the country’s distant-water fleet rarely fishes for squid. In fact, China’s three most recent self-imposed fishing bans were all located in areas where its fishing vessels rarely fished in the previous years.

Oceana’s analysis found that:

“China’s supposed fishing bans are built on false pretenses. It’s like a penguin saying it’s giving up flying,” Oceana Campaign Director Dr. Max Valentine said. “Ending squid fishing in areas where there is no fishing does nothing to protect squid. If we are going to take responsible fishing seriously, we need real solutions — not ones built on optics to disingenuously win the world’s good favor.”

Oceana analyzed the activities of Chinese-flagged squid fishing vessels using Automatic Identification System (AIS) data from Global Fishing Watch (GFW),** an independent nonprofit founded by Oceana in partnership with SkyTruth and Google. AIS devices transmit information such as a vessel’s name, flag state, and location.

“This most recent feigned ban is just the latest attempt by one of the world’s worst actors when it comes to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing to improve its global image and insinuate that it is taking positive steps to combat overfishing,” Dr. Valentine said. “It’s an insult to honest fishers and governments across the globe that take tangible steps to protect our oceans and those who depend on them. These PR stunts are perfect examples of how bad actors can pillage and overfish our oceans, then announce phony conservation measures to cover their tracks. It serves as further proof that increased transparency of fishing is needed to stop these types of bait and switches.”

China has by far the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleets, with nearly 11,000 distant water fishing vessels detected through AIS. When fleets this massive focus on a mostly unregulated and unmonitored fishery — as is the case for international squid fisheries — it poses a significant threat to ocean ecosystems around the globe. In the first 6 months of 2023 alone, China conducted more than 330,000 hours of squid fishing. These self-imposed bans have not diminished the amount of squid fishing China is doing, since the bans are all in places where the fleet rarely fishes.  Oceana says massive distant-water fishing fleets, like China’s, are propped up by harmful government subsidies that promote overcapacity and incentivize overfishing. China is the world’s largest provider of harmful fisheries subsidizes, estimated at $5.9 billion USD. The lack of enforcement of distant-water fishing raises serious concerns about ocean health and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Oceana calls on governments like the United States to require expanded transparency at sea and traceability of imported seafood to help verify that seafood is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.

Learn more about how we can increase transparency at sea here.

*Any and all references to “fishing” should be understood in the context of Global Fishing Watch’s fishing detection algorithm, which is a best effort to determine “apparent fishing effort” based on vessel speed and direction data from the automatic identification system (AIS) collected via satellites and terrestrial receivers. As AIS data varies in completeness, accuracy, and quality, it is possible that some fishing effort is not identified and conversely, that some fishing effort identified is not fishing. For these reasons, Global Fishing Watch qualifies all designations of vessel fishing effort, including synonyms of the term “fishing effort,” such as “fishing” or “fishing activity,” as “apparent,” rather than certain. Any/all Global Fishing Watch information about “apparent fishing effort” should be considered an estimate and must be used at your own risk. Global Fishing Watch is taking steps to make sure fishing effort designations are as accurate as possible.

**Global Fishing Watch, a provider of open data for use in this release, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing ocean governance through increased transparency of human activity at sea. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, which are not connected with or sponsored, endorsed, or granted official status by Global Fishing Watch. By creating and publicly sharing map visualizations, data and analysis tools, Global Fishing Watch aims to enable scientific research and transform the way our ocean is managed. Global Fishing Watch’s public data was used in the production of this publication.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 275 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit to learn more.

Contacts: Cory Gunkel 228.760.3003,

Megan Jordan 703.401.3004,