The Chinese government has issued a new regulation threatening hefty fines on activities of foreign fishermen in China’s claimed “jurisdictional waters.”
The new policy was announced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the China Coast Guard and became effective on Nov. 26 but was only publicized on the government’s website in Chinese on Dec. 23.
The purpose was to standardize the fishery administrative penalties and “to ensure fair, just and reasonable implementation” of the penalties as well as to protect the state’s and citizens’ “legitimate rights and interests,” the government agencies said in an official notice.
One of the punitive measures stipulates that foreign fishermen caught operating without the consent of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the Chinese-claimed exclusive economic zone, or continental shelf, could be fined up to 400,000 renminbi ($62,700). These fishermen could also be expelled by the Coast Guard and their catch and fishing equipment confiscated.
If foreigners are caught fishing in China’s territorial waters, or very close to the Chinese coast, they could be fined up to 500,000 renminbi ($78,500) and their boats seized.
The new regulation also says if the “illegal activities” are committed at a location where the local government has set a more severe punishment then the local penalty shall be applied first.
The Chinese government website said the rules are being implemented on a trial basis before becoming permanent. Countries in the region have yet to respond to this new regulation.
PRC’s self-claimed “jurisdictional waters” extend to most of the South China Sea but the claims are disputed by its neighbors and have been rejected by an international tribunal.
This is not the first time China has made a unilateral rule to apply in disputed waters.
Since 1999, it has imposed an annual fishing ban from May to August in the South China Sea and state media have reported seizing a large number of vessels each year during that period.
Fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines have repeatedly accused Chinese law enforcement of harassing and preventing them from operating in their traditional fishing grounds.
In February, Beijing also passed a controversial Coast Guard law that authorizes its maritime law-enforcement fleets to use force on foreign vessels operating in the waters “under the jurisdiction of China.”
The law was opposed by most of the countries in the region. The U.S. State Department also denounced it, saying the law “could be used to intimidate the PRC’s maritime neighbors.”