SECNAV, Navy Maritime Intel Director Give Warnings About Illegal Chinese Fishing

March 6, 2023 4:31 PM
Japanese fishing enforcement interdicts an illegal Chinese fishing boat in 2013.

China must be held accountable for threatening world food security as its globally operating fishing fleet hauls in illegal catch from other nations’ waters, the Navy’s top intelligence officer said at a regional maritime conference in Panama last week.

“Every other country shouldn’t suffer for China’s rise,” said Rear Adm. Michael Studeman, the commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence, said last week. He said the size of the Chinese fishing fleet is between 12,000 and 17,000 vessels.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said in opening remarks that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing “is a direct attack on that nation’s sovereignty.” In the past, he has singled out China for carrying out illegal fishing on “an industrial scale.” The Coast Guard has put it above piracy as a maritime threat.

“We’re all affected,” Studeman said.

Adm. Francisco Cubides, commander of the Colombian National Navy, said it means using all assets of the government – Navy, Coast Guard, security forces – to combat illegal maritime activities. He said as a submarine officer, he was involved in putting an end to an illegal fishing operation while on a security and counter-narcotics patrol.

“Every day we are detecting different kinds of vessels … fishing illegally” in Colombia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Cubides said the Colombian Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force all are engaged in monitoring fishing, with an eye on Chinese vessels in its waters. Noting that the Colombians seized 34 metric tons of illegally caught fish, he added, “it should be zero.” That is the goal when using the wide array of national assets and cooperating closely with neighbors like Panama, Ecuador and Costa Rico in the Pacific and others in the Caribbean.

“We put together all our capabilities,” he said.

To be successful in defending the environment and meeting national security demands, Cubides said the government as a whole has to be committed to those goals and “use all the tools” available.

To combat illegal fishing, narcotics smuggling, human trafficking and protecting sea lines of communication, Studeman added that “no one nation can do all that [provide monitoring, surveillance and presence]… You need a network of partners,” who can share information.

“You don’t always need a platform” to gather that data. Nations “need to look at the information domain” from sensors to satellites to track vessels even when they turn off their automatic identification system devices.

“We’re looking at advanced technology and how that can be applied to maritime issues,” Studeman said.

Del Toro added that “using unmanned technology [to better monitor maritime activities] will be transformational.” That technology will “mesh resources … to counter bad actors across the world.”

The Navy is pushing nations in the Middle East to move quickly and jointly in acquiring unmanned systems to counter illegal activities and possible terrorist activities in those waters.

“We have to understand … where the center of gravity is” in the illegal activity – a state, a transnational criminal organization, etc. “Go after the bigger fish, not the smaller fish,” Del Toro added.

Studeman said the truth about the scale of Chinese illegal fishing “has a hard time breaking through the deluge” of misinformation from Beijing. Other nations also fear retaliation for speaking out against Chinese activities. “We need to escort [facts]” to the public. “The messaging needs to be repeated by many people,” especially political leaders, he added.

“We need to have China act as a responsible power in every possible way,” Studeman said.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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