On March 2, the 1,000-tonne, Spanish-built patrol ship Doctor Manuel Mantilla, of Argentina’s paramilitary maritime force, the Prefectura Naval Argentina (PNA), opened fire with its 40mm cannon on the Chinese fishing boat Hua Xiang 801, which was operating within Argentina’ s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The incident was heavily publicised, and served to cast further light on illegal fishing activity by the Chinese.
Video footage of the event does not confirm that Hua Xiang 801was hit by the gunfire, and the Chinese ship subsequently left the EEZ. This was just the latest in a series of serious incidents involving PNA ships and Chinese fishing vessels over the past decade.
There is mounting concern in South America over the proliferation of Chinese fishing fleets within the EEZs of Argentina, Ecuador and Peru. This development is also receiving close attention from such non-government conservation organisations as Global Fishing Watch and OCEANA, which nowadays use some very sophisticated surveillance and analytical systems.
Commentators often refer to the “insatiable Chinese appetite for seafood”, but much of the catch of Chinese the fishing fleets is actually sold on the world market, thereby generating huge profits.
There are signs, though, that Beijing has become sensitive to international concerns, and that, as a result, the Chinese fishing industry is changing tack, so as to able to operate legally within foreign EEZs. Chinese companies have been buying into the Peruvian fishing industry for some time, and the Chinese company Dalian Hua Fong has purchased the Spanish firm Arbumasa, which has significant fishing interests in South American waters.