From shark finning to modern-day slavery and devastation of fish stocks, the depredations of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) 17,000-vessel distant water fishing fleet have been well documented by media worldwide. Some of the most inhumane practices, however, have escaped public attention, according to United States law enforcement agencies.
Videos and images recovered from social media posts by non-Chinese crew members on PRC fishing vessels have revealed gruesome, large-scale slaughter of marine mammals in the South Pacific. They depict Chinese boat captains ordering their crews to haul in whales that have been snagged in fishing lines. The whales’ heads are hauled on deck and hydraulic fluid poured into their blowhole to suffocate them. The animals are then shocked with prods or electric power lines shoved in their eyes and mouth. Finally, the whales are decapitated, still alive — by hacksaw.
This activity has been going on for decades in the South Pacific, and thousands of whales are believed to be killed every year, according to law enforcement. The whales, including pilot whales and orcas, are killed exclusively for their ivory teeth, pictured, which can fetch U.S. $500 to U.S. $1,000 a tooth on the black market. The Chinese captains hoard the teeth, doling out small numbers of them to crew members as a reward and incentive after months at sea. The ease of concealment, coupled with general ignorance of this practice outside the isolated long-line fishing community, kept this activity covert until its exposure on social media.
The distant water fleets of other countries may engage in similar practices, but law enforcement officials have only seen video evidence of these activities on Chinese long-line fishing vessels. U.S. marine mammal bycatch regulations strictly prohibit the killing of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) by vessels whose catch is exported to the U.S. Law enforcement authorities have been frustrated in their efforts to enforce these regulations against Chinese fishing companies due to deliberate obfuscation and the complexities of the global fish supply chain. It is critical that the international community identify and investigate these crimes, as well as hold the PRC accountable for the inhumane practices of its fishing fleet.
IMAGE CREDIT: NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION