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A new report published by scientists at the University of British Columbia finds that Chinese fishing boats catch about $11.5 billion worth of fish from beyond Chinese waters each year, and much of that haul goes unreported. If these latest estimates are correct, then Chinese fishermen are harvesting about 12 times the amount of fish they’re reporting to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. While the numbers produced by the report are rough estimates, they raise some serious red flags about overfishing.

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The new report estimates that Chinese fishing boats pull in about 4.6 million tons of fish from from the waters of at least 90 countries each year, and much of that catch comes from West African waters. To arrive at the new estimate, UBC researchers analyzed the type of fishing boats used by Chinese fishermen around the world and their catch capacity. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the exact amount of fish caught by Chinese fishing boats, and getting a better understanding of how many fish are being taken from the oceans is key to maintaining healthy fish populations.

“China hasn’t been forthcoming about its fisheries catches,” said Dirk Zeller, Senior Research Fellow with UBC’s Sea Around Us Project. “While not reporting catches doesn’t necessarily mean the fishing is illegal – there could be agreements between these countries and China that allow fishing – we simply don’t know for sure as this information just isn’t available.”

via PhysOrg