Two fishing vessels congregate near Cordova Harbor on May 16, 2021. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith for The Cordova Times

Report comes as Alaska harvesters, processors fight uphill battle in global fisheries industry 

A new analysis from Oceana, the world’s largest advocacy entity for ocean conservation, provides evidence that China is continuing to engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activity — including millions of dollars’ worth of squid imported into the United States over the past five years. 

The report shows that China’s fleet is flocking to waters surrounding the Galápagos Islands off the western coast of Ecuador, then frequently vanishing from view by appearing to disable public tracking devices. The report notes that the United States imported over $686 million worth of squid from China and its special administrative region of Hong Kong over the past five years. 

China’s fishing fleet was identified by NOAA for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and human rights abuses in the agency’s biennial report to the U.S. Congress. 

The report, released on Dec. 22, comes as Alaska’s commercial fisheries are facing uphill economic challenges, including global competition from IUU fisheries and slave labor conditions, forcing major Alaska processors to make drastic changes in their operations. These changes are expected to have a dramatic impact on coastal communities dependent upon fisheries-related income. 

“China’s colossal distant-water fleet is emptying the waters surrounding the Galápagos of marine life, disappearing from the public eye, and fueling unregulated fishing practices beyond the horizon,” said Oceana Campaign Director Max Valentine.  

What with the U.S. importing a significant amount of seafood from China there’s no guarantee that what reaches America came from safe and responsibly sourced practices, he said.  


“In fact, there’s no guarantee that it was not caught through unscrupulous activities at sea,” said Valentine. “China’s intense fishing operations around the world not only raise serious questions about the fleet’s impact on the oceans, but also on the United States’ tacit participation in supporting potential human rights violations and IUU fishing activities.” 

The report notes that in addition to vessels flagged disabling their tracking devices, that China’s fleet is engaging in potential encounter events with other vessels providing transshipment. Transshipment occurs when fishing vessels meet with refrigerated cargo ships at sea to transfer their catch instead of coming into port.   

Such activity allows harvesters to potentially hide illicit activity by mixing legal and illegal harvests. 

While transshipment is not illegal, it is often an additional risk factor associated with IUU activities. 

Crews can also be exchanged during transshipment events, a major concern around forced labor practices. 

The report stated the amount of unregulated fishing activity around the Galápagos Islands and the number of times vessels flagged to China appeared to disable their public tracking devices far surpassed that of vessels flagged to any other country that appeared to fish in that area. 

For its analysis, Oceana studied fishing vessel activities from Jan. 1, 2021, to Aug. 31, 2023. 

The organization found that a total of 510 fishing vessels flagged to China appeared to fish within 200 nautical miles of the Galápagos border, more than triple the number of vessels flagged to other nations in the same area, and in fact making up nearly 75% of all vessels in the area. One squid jigger flagged to China appeared to participate in multiple encounters that allowed it to remain at sea for nearly two years. During that period the vessel had 25 potential encounters with carrier vessels, the report said. 

Oceana has called on governments like the U.S. to require expanded transparency at sea and traceability of imported seafood to assure that seafood being imported to the U.S. is safe legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled.