The United States has imposed sanctions on a number of companies and individuals over alleged rights abuses linked to what Washington describes as illegal, distant-water fishing operations based in China.
The US Treasury Department said on Friday that the sanctions targeted Chinese nationals Li Zhenyu and Zhuo Xinrong, as well as 10 entities linked to the pair, including Dalian Ocean Fishing Company and Pingtan Marine Enterprise.
The department also identified 157 Chinse-flagged vessels related to the targeted entities, which it accused of “serious human rights abuses” and abusive labour conditions.
“Treasury condemns the practices of those sanctioned today, which often involve the abuse of human rights, undermine fundamental labour and environmental standards, and harm the economic prospects of local populations in the Indo-Pacific,” Treasury Department official Brian E Nelson said in a statement.
China has been criticised for practices such as “distant water fishing”, in which boats fish in international waters or the waters of other countries and outside of their 200 nautical-mile (300km) exclusive economic zone (EEV). China has the largest distant water fishing fleet in the world.
On Friday, the US Treasury Department accused Dalian Ocean Fishing Company of spending 13 months at sea, during which five workers died and three had their bodies dumped into the water. It said the company’s crews work an average of 18 hours a day, living off of expired food and contaminated water.
The US also accused Dalian Ocean Fishing Company and Pingtan Marine Enterprise of being involved in illegal shark finning operations.
The efforts to crack down on illegal fishing come as climate change threatens to devastate marine life around the world. Nearly 10 percent of marine life faces potential extinction, according to the latest Red List of Threatened Species published on Friday.
China has said that it is a responsible member of the international fishing community, that its fleet fishes inside their exclusive economic zone and it has taken steps to crack down on illegal fishing.
On Friday, the country’s embassy in Washington condemned the US for “pointing fingers at other countries and imposing unilateral sanctions under the pretext of human rights”.
“The US is in no position to impose unwarranted sanctions on other countries or act as a world policeman,” embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said.
But with an eye towards China, US President Joe Biden signed a national security memorandum in June as part of an effort to combat alleged violations by fishing fleets.
That same month, a US official said that China had a responsibility to “actively monitor and correct … fishing fleet activities in other countries’ waters”.
“These designations demonstrate how seriously we take the problem of illicit fishing and our commitment to holding the perpetrators of serious human rights abuses to account,” said the Treasury Department’s Nelson about the new sanctions.
The measures block any property and interests the targeted individuals and entities may have in the US and prohibit US companies from doing business with them.
The action against Pingtan represents the first time that the US has sanctioned a company on the NASDAQ.