According to Voice of America News (VOA) on Thursday, fishermen working from Hawaii are expressing growing concern over the steadily increasing number of Chinese fishing vessels working in and near their waters.
China has a well-established habit of pushing other nations out of fishing grounds it desires to feed its ravenous appetite for seafood, and often uses its fishing fleet as paramilitary muscle to enforce its expansive and illegal territorial claims.
To put it simply, the Hawaiian fishing industry is nervously watching how China behaves everywhere else it decides to seize fishing ground and fears the situation might be worse if not for the robust protection offered by U.S. Navy and Coast Guard bases in Hawaii:
Chinese ships have reportedly forced North Korean fisherman out of their own waters, and North Koreans sometimes fish illegally off the coast of Russia.
For crews in flimsy boats, things often end badly. Hundreds of so-called North Korean ghost ships have washed up in Japan, often containing the remains of fishermen. Some speculate they died of starvation after being forced by Chinese fleets into dangerous waters far from home.
Last year, a flotilla of 300 Chinese vessels alarmed environmentalists worldwide as ships massed along the exclusive economic zone of Ecuador, raising worldwide concerns about the impact on sensitive Galapagos Islands sea life. Satellite imagery suggests the fleet is approaching the area again this year.
The Philippines have some of the ugliest and longest-running confrontations with China’s “maritime militia” fishing fleet, culminating in Philippine Defense Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., literally telling the Chinese to “get the f**k out” of Philippine waters in May. (They didn’t).
The Chinese do not always bother to do any actual fishing when their maritime militia swarms and surrounds disputed islands, blockading them against other fishermen. Critics have taken to calling them the “Little Blue Men,” a pun on the “little green men” Russia dispatches as out-of-uniform paramilitary fighters before it annexes territory.
Chinese fishing fleets have a record of inflicting huge environmental damage through overfishing, destructive harvesting techniques, and dumping waste into the water. Environmentalists complain Chinese industrial fishing vessels wreaked havoc in waters surrounding the fabled Galapagos Islands in June. VOA noted Chinese fishing vessels have been condemned by U.S. and international agencies for egregiously flouting environmental standards.
Hawaiian media noticed in May that China’s infamous fishing fleet was edging steadily closer to Hawaii after devastating the economies of American Samoa and Guam with “illegal, unregulated fishing.” A large number of Chinese vessels were spotted around Midway Island.
“What are they fishing for? I don’t know,” said Hawaii Longline Association executive director Eric Kingma in May of the Midway flotilla. “But it’s an example of them being close to Hawaii and, we believe, getting closer.”
U.S. military and Coast Guard officials are worried that China could easily mix warships and surveillance vessels into its huge fishing flotillas, or use the sheer number of fishing boats at its command to interfere with American naval operations by overcrowding the seas.