Asia is facing a looming fishing crisis. On the one hand, due to over-fishing and pollution, the fishing industry in many areas is suffering from rapid depletion of fish stock which presents an acute threat to marine ecology, regional food security and livelihood of millions of traditional fishermen. On the other hand, over the past few years, this region has witnessed a growing number of fishing related incidents, ranging from fishing disputes in the troubled waters of the South China Sea and the East China Sea; Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing; to hijacking of fishermen by pirates or other actors. Some of these fishing incidents have evoked tensions among regional countries.
While national and regional policies to help sustain fisheries are important steps to prevent this fishing crisis, success will largely depend on the actions of China, not only because it has the largest fishing industry in the world but also due to the fact that China’s overemphasis on the marine fishery sector’s role in ensuring food security and, to a lesser extent, its maritime militia policy are directly and indirectly responsible for triggering this fishing crisis. Therefore, to avert this looming fishing crisis, reforms in China’s fishing policies will be vital and the following policy recommendations may be considered:
- Sustainable Fishing as the top priority:China cannot continue to develop its marine fishery sector with “boosting fishery production and fishermen’s income” as the overarching principle. Instead, sustainable fishery must be placed as the top priority which governs the future development of China’s fishery sector, and marine fishery in particular.
- Better Utilisation of International Fishery Resources: To meet the country’s rising demand for fishery products, China should better utilise international fishery resources from three aspects. First, while China should continue to promote the development of distant water fishing, immediate steps must be taken to mitigate the negative consequences of over-fishing and IUU fishing by Chinese fleet and distant water fishing companies. Second, China should cooperate with regional countries to enhance regional fishery trade. Guangxi’s proposal to build a China-ASEAN Fishing Corridor in the South China Sea is certainly a welcome move. Third, as the biggest fishing farm nation with advanced technological and management know-how, China should strive to work together with other regional countries to promote the development of regional aquaculture as an alternative to meet Asia’s rising demand for seafood and combat over-fishing.
- Reconsidering the maritime militia policy: The maritime militia policy incurs far more costs than benefits to China and the region as a whole. In view of tensions brewing in the South and East China Seas and strong competition for scarce fishery resources in the region, the concept of maritime militia policy is obsolete and ought to be discarded.
About the Author
Zhang Hongzhou is an Associate Research Fellow with the China Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His main research interests include China and regional resources (food, water and energy) security, agricultural and rural development, fishing policy and maritime security. He has contributed papers to peer reviewed journals such as the Pacific Review, Harvard Asia Quarterly, Copenhagen Journal of Asia Studies, the ISPI Analysis and Southeast Asia Studies, edited volumes and international conferences. He has also contributed Op-Ed articles to newspapers and magazines in the Asia-Pacific, such as the YaleGlobal Online, the Diplomat, ChinaDialogue, the Global Times, Today, Lianhe Zaobao, the Nation and others.
Conflict and Stability / East Asia and Asia Pacific / Maritime Security / Non-Traditional Security / Policy Reports
Last updated on 02/06/2015