XIANGSHAN, China - A senior fishery official in Zhejiang Province, China, admitted Tuesday that dozens of coral fishing boats that had departed from a local port are currently in the sea around Japan to illegally collect ornamental coral.
The official, of the Xiangshan County fishery management authority, told The Yomiuri Shimbun the local government would mete out harsh punishments to the fishermen for illegally collecting the coral in waters around the Ogasawara Island chain - if they return to the port.
However, coral poachers are believed to rarely return to their port of departure.
"It's very difficult to crack down [on poachers]," the official said. It is not clear how strict the local government would be to stop coral poaching.
According to county authorities, the local government confirmed on the basis of local fishermen's statements that fishing boats had departed to collect coral from the sea around Japan.
The officials said the county would seize fishing boats and destroy them if they are found to be carrying fishing nets used to collect coral after they return to local ports. It also will hand down criminal punishments on fishermen found to possess coral.
On Friday, the Zhejiang provincial government held an emergency meeting and confirmed their stance to enforce strict control over coral poachers' boats.
Among coral used to make jewelry, red coral is designated by the Chinese government as a top-tier protected animal species, like the giant panda, whose protection is prioritized under its wildlife conservation law. Collecting the species is prohibited by law.
In Xiangshan County, coral poaching was detected for the first time three years ago and 18 boats were found to be involved. The official admitted that most of the boats collected coral in Japanese waters.
According to the official, the technique for collecting red coral was brought to Fujian Province from Taiwan and it spread to neighbouring Zhejiang Province. Illegally collected coral is traded overseas and most of the coral is shipped to Taiwan.