Study: China's squid fleet avoids Peru to dodge new port law

New research suggests that a port regulation implemented by Peru to combat illegal fishing by Chinese squid vessels has failed and pushed the world's largest overseas fishing fleet further into the shadows. This has increased the risk of forced labor. In 2020, Peru required foreign fishing boats to use a vessel monitoring system to track their activities in real-time, aiming to provide authorities with visibility into the Chinese squid vessels that gather off the west coast of South America.

However, the new regulations have driven Chinese ships away from Peruvian ports, exposing impoverished Filipino and Indonesian crews to abuse by keeping them at sea for longer periods. Artisonal's report found that only three of the 671 Chinese vessels authorized to fish in the eastern Pacific have installed the equipment.

Artisonal's satellite tracking technology shows that vessels are staying at sea longer instead of docking in Peru for crew change and restocking. This is a red flag for potential abuse of the approximately 16,000 crew members aboard the fleet. Before the port regulations, foreign squid vessels spent an average of 10-12 months at sea, but now the typical fishing trip has increased to 18-24 months before returning to China.

Artisonal's research highlights the case of Chang Tai 802, which entered the port of Chimbote in Peru in August 2019 to leave a crew member with a kidney infection requiring emergency care. In July 2021, the Associated Press spotted the same vessel in the eastern Pacific during an investigation into the Chinese distant water fishing fleet's activities. During an at-sea encounter, an Indonesian crew member screamed from the stern of the vessel "I want to go home," causing concern among family members who hadn't heard from their loved one for months.

The Chang Tai 802 fished for another year before returning to China in August 2022 and then returned to South America a month later after a brief visit. The ship's owner, Haimen Changtai Pelagic, did not respond to an email requesting comment. Several other vessels identified by Artisonal face similarly dire conditions, with crews spending as long as three years at sea. Giant support ships supply them with fuel and food while refrigerated cargo vessels haul their catch back to China.

Eloy Aroni, who previously worked in Peru's fishing industry, expressed concern about the significant increase in "forced arrivals" last year. He cited the example of Zhe Pu Yuan 98, which was responsible for eight of the 14 emergency landings recorded last year, each lasting less than 24 hours. In the absence of further information from Peruvian authorities, he suggested that the ship may have been exploiting a loophole to change crews. The ship's owner, Zhoushan Putuo Deep-Sea, did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Avoiding Peruvian ports enables ships to evade scrutiny not only of their labor practices but also potential safety risks and inspections for illegal fishing.

Juan Carlos Sueiro, an expert on fishing in Peru with the international conservation group Oceana, believes that China's fleet is mocking the new regulations. He recommended that Peru strengthen its regulations to clarify the conditions under which foreign-flagged vessels can make "emergency" visits to its ports.

In an interview, he stated that "Activities that threaten the sustainability of resources are based on forms of modern slavery and are very dynamic. Squid fishing is a case in point. The restrictions imposed by Peru for access to Peruvian ports have led the fleet to move to other ports, but above all by staying longer at sea, which further erodes crew members' already precarious labor rights."

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