The Chinese Distant Water Fishing Fleet and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

Key Points

  • Chinese interests operate the largest distant water fishing fleet in the world, estimated to be 1,600-3,400 ships in size.
  • The Chinese distant water fishing fleet could be five to eight times larger than that, however, and operate in every region of the world.
  • While most of those vessels operate legally, with permission from host states and in accordance with international maritime law, there is considerable scope for Chinese fishing operators to act in a legal grey zone.
  • Beijing has militarised part of its fishing fleet, enabling it to act as a third sea force capable of projecting power and advancing Chinese strategic interests.


Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is not just an environmental challenge, it also poses a threat to food security, employment and state development. It is often conducted by transnational criminal networks and, in some cases, it even perpetuates conflict. The Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Admiral Karl Schultz, stated that IUU fishing has replaced piracy as the leading global maritime security threat. If IUU fishing continues unchecked, we can expect a deterioration of fragile coastal States and increased tension among foreign-fishing Nations, threatening geo-political stability around the world. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations 2019 biennial IUU Fishing Report to Congress, also noted a significant increase in alleged illegal fishing by Chinese-flagged vessels in the exclusive economi....

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