China has invested heavily in an armada of far-flung fishing vessels, in part to extend its global influence. This maritime expansion has come at grave human cost.
Some ships that appear to be fishing vessels press territorial claims in contested waters, including in the South China Sea and around Taiwan. “This may look like a fishing fleet, but, in certain places, it’s also serving military purposes,” says Ian Ralby, who runs I.R. Consilium, a maritime-security firm. China’s preëminence at sea has come at a cost. The country is largely unresponsive to international laws, and its fleet is the worst perpetrator of illegal fishing in the world, helping drive species to the brink of extinction. Its ships are also rife with labor trafficking, debt bondage, violence, criminal neglect, and death.
The seafood industry is difficult to police. A large portion of fish consumed in the U.S. is caught or processed by Chinese companies. Several laws exist to prevent the U.S. from importing products tainted by forced labor, including that which is involved in the production of conflict diamonds and sweatshop goods. But China is not forthcoming with details about its ships and processing plants.
Kenneth Kennedy, a former manager of the anti-forced-labor program at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that the U.S. government should block seafood imports from China until American companies can demonstrate that their supply chains are free of abuse. “The U.S. is awash with criminally tainted seafood,” he said.
Read the full article by Ian Urbina (complete with visuals and firsthand accounts) in The New Yorker