Pakistan has given fishing rights to China in the Arabian Sea near Gwadar port in Balochistan. Now, the sea on the Baloch coastline is dotted with hundreds of Chinese fishing boats.
Pakistan has given licenses to the Chinese trawlers causing resentment among fishermen in Gwadar. Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that hundreds of "fishermen, political workers and members of civil society staged a protest rally against the federal government for granting Chinese trawlers fishing rights in Gwadar by issuing them licences. The National Party and Baloch Student Organisation had called for the protest rally and sit-in in front of the Gwadar Press Club against the government’s move".
The Baloch fishermen are feeling doubly cheated. They were earlier displaced from their land for the China-driven Gwadar port, which remains out of bounds for them due to security concerns. Despite China's billions of dollars of investment, the local people feel disenfranchised. Now, with the arrival of huge Chinese trawlers, they feel completely crushed.
What is adding to their worry is that the Chinese vessels are no ordinary boats. These are 'factory ships'–commercial ships which contain food processing units to process and preserve the catch from the ocean. As the Chinese trawlers have begun their large-scale operations, fishermen in not just Balochistan but all along Pakistan's nearly 1,000-km coast are now fretting about their livelihood.
The Chinese have swamped the Pakistani coastline.
Last year the Chinese trawlers were spotted at the Karachi port, spreading fear among the fisher folk in Sindh.
Trawlers are associated with destructive fishing as they drag large nets across the ocean floor to scoop up everything. The trawlers are equipped with narrow nets that not just catch the fish but even eggs and everything else as well. The fishermen retain what is useful commercially and throw the rest back into the sea.
The Pakistani fishing community is worried because each Chinese vessel can catch over ten times what a Pakistani boat can. The worry is that the entry of Chinese ships will lead to massive unemployment among the Baloch as well as the Sindhi fishermen.
What is also worrying the Pakistani fishermen is the fact that deep-sea trawling is not just large-scale but is also destructive. It not only catches the fish, but also kills the eggs, stirs up the ocean floor and deadens the marine food chain.
Pakistan has opened up its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to Chinese fishing companies. Abdul Berr, Fishermen’s Cooperative Society (FCS) chairman, told Arab News that China will help upgrade Pakistani fishing industry and increase its exports. “Bringing Chinese trawlers for deep-sea fishing is in line with the government’s deep-sea fishing policy and aimed at upgrading and modernizing fishing, besides providing job opportunities to local fishermen", Berr said.
What has brought Chinese fishing boats halfway around the globe to Pakistan? It is the need to feed the Chinese population. China's thousands of ships bring millions of tons of seafood back home–not just from near Pakistan but also from as far as African shores.
A report published by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in May 2020, just before the World Oceans Day on June 8 said that China's Distant Water Fishing (DWF) fleet was five to eight times larger than previously thought. ODI estimated the fleet at nearly 17,000 vessels.
The ODI report said: "The ownership and operational control of China’s DWF fleet is both complex and opaque. ODI’s analysis of a subsample of 6,122 vessels found that just eight companies owned or operated more than 50 vessels. …Complicated company structures and a lack of transparency hamper monitoring and regulatory efforts. This makes it difficult for those responsible for malpractice to be held accountable".
By opening up its EEZ to Chinese fishing companies, Pakistan might be currying favour with the communist country for the latter's mammoth investment of $62 billion in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). But in doing so, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan just might turn its own people–Sindhis and Balochistan, who are anyway fighting for independence–against itself.