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The frigid waters off Japan’s eastern coast teem with sardines, mackerel, anchovy and scallop. They are some of Asia’s most fertile fishing grounds, inspiring an exquisite seafood-rich national cuisine, and supporting a domestic fishing industry worth some $9 billion each year. Today, though, this natural bounty is under threat from a stealthy interloper: an armada of up to 200 Chinese fishing boats, which recently set up camp at the edge of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

 

The boats are allegedly using destructive fishing practices like drift nets to “vacuum up” all manner of sea life, one Japanese official reveals to TIME. “This area is a breading ground so they are catching lots of juveniles,” says the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It has had a massive impact on Japanese fisheries.”

Some Chinese vessels have even entered Japanese waters, raising regional tensions and prompting Japan’s Foreign Minister to summon the Chinese ambassador for an explanation. But Japan is only the latest country to feel the brunt of China’s bloated fishing industry, which suffers from overcapacity owing in part to huge government subsidies. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) Chinese fishing is reaching “crisis point” for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, say environmentalists, exacerbated by China’s own chronically depleted coastal waters. Last week, China’s Ministry of Agriculture said 13 million tons of fish are caught in Chinese territorial waters each year — 4 million to 5 million tons more than what’s sustainable.

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TIME

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