China’s fishing industry has developed substantially since the reform era. Its growing fishing capacity has led to degradation of the marine environment. However, fishing has become a key component in China’s maritime claims of sovereignty. The evolving concepts of sovereignty, territorial rights and fishing rights imply that fishing has become more “sovereignised”. Successful fishery management is also an indication of states’ efficacy to exercise two aspects of internal sovereignty—effective domestic governance and economic interdependence. A historical incident in the 1930s shows that fishing has long been deemed a critical constituent in China’s exercise of sovereignty. Yet, with the tribunal ruling on the South China Sea arbitration that overturns China’s historic rights argument, of which fishing is a critical constituent, China needs to recalibrate its fishing rights and maritime claims.