- China’s Fisheries Management Policy: An Interview with Tabitha Mallory
1. How has China’s fisheries management policy changed over time?
China has some of the oldest fishing conservation measures in the world, like fishing bans and mesh size limits, which date to at least to the Zhou Dynasty, from 1046–256 B.C.E. There is evidence of resource strain toward the end of the Qing Dynasty in the eighteenth century, and coastal areas managed fisheries through local associations. From the beginning of the twentieth century, China borrowed many of the modernist fishing practices of industrialized countries, which were geared toward large-scale, scientific-based production of fish. China’s first fisheries school, the Aquatic Production Institute (modeled after the Japanese), was established in 1910 in Tianjin. Chinese fisheries were showing signs of overfishing in the 1930s, but the war period allowed the stocks to rebound. The Chinese Communist Party under Chairman Mao greatly expanded the fisheries sector even more efficiently than the Nationalists, whose fisheries institutions were preserved after the revolution. By the 1970s, however, some commercial stocks were collapsing.
Dead fish are actually responsible for putting environmental protection on China’s radar screen after Mao. The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm coincided with two environmental crises in China, both involving fish. A toxic algae bloom decimated fish stocks in Dalian, while contaminated fish appeared in Beijing’s fish market. These events initiated the development of the domestic institutions that now govern China’s environment and natural resources.
In the mid-1980s, China created two policies to address depleted fisheries. The state accelerated development of the aquaculture industry, and launched a distant water fishing industry. As a result of the new aquaculture policy, China is now the world’s largest producer of seafood. China is probably also the world’s largest producer of wild catch, though there is some question here because of data reliability.
Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, China’s marine resource conservation took shape: the Rio sustainability principles inspired China’s [End Page 85] Ocean Agenda 21; the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) created the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in 1995; and China ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1996. China’s new emphasis on sustainable development is reflected in current domestic laws and regulations governing domestic fisheries. However, the state’s economic goals have predominantly eclipsed sustainability targets when it comes to enforcement.
2. Can you discuss international perceptions of China’s current policies and their adherence to sustainable fisheries norms?
China has done best implementing sustainable fisheries policies domestically, even though the state falls short of some targets. For example, the Bureau of Fisheries intended to decrease the size of China’s ocean fishing fleet by thirty thousand between 2002 and 2010, but ultimately fell short of this goal by twelve thousand. However, the central authority realizes that conserving domestic resources is in China’s direct interest for long-term domestic economic reasons.
However, compliance and cooperation with fisheries institutions that govern international resources need improvement. China has signed (but not ratified) the Fish Stocks Agreement, which addresses straddling [fish that migrate between exclusive economic zones of one or more states] and highly migratory stocks. China has joined a number of regional fisheries management organizations in accordance with the agreement, and follows many of the requirements of these organizations, though there are some quality and accuracy problems with logbook and data reporting. China has not even signed the [UN’s 1993 FAO] Compliance Agreement, which establishes important standards for high seas fishing operations, and there is a dearth of discussion about the Agreement in Chinese sources.
China has enormous challenges with illegal fishing, both regionally and globally, which negatively affects China’s relationships with other countries. Until the late 2000s, there was little discussion in Chinese sources of the international plan of action on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. However, a policy document from the Fisheries Bureau issued in early 2013 took up the issue, a sign that it has become a higher priority for the state.
But no country has gotten...