9 July 2015
“China’s Fishing Industry:
Current Status, Government Policies, and Future Prospects”
A paper for the China as a “Maritime Power” conference
July 28-29, 2015
CNA Conference Facility
Driven by rapidly rising demand for fishery products and supported by government
policies, China’s fishing industry has expanded dramatically over the past three decades.
China is now by far the biggest producer of fishery products. In 2013, China’s total
fishery production reached 61.7 million tonnes, representing over one-third of the world’s
total fishery production. China’s gigantic fishing industry is supported by the largest
fishing fleet in the world, with nearly 200,000 marine (sea-going) fishing vessels and
2,460 distant-water (i.e., high seas beyond China’s EEZ) fishing vessels in 2014. Apart
from being the biggest fishery producer,1 China has also been being the world’s leading
*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 security (food, water and energy), agricultural and rural development;
China’s fishing policies and maritime security.
1 This includes fishery products of both capture fishery and aquaculture.
exporter of fishery products since 2002. In 2013, China enjoyed USD 11.6 billion surplus
from its external fishery trade.2
China’s fishing industry, however, has increasingly become the victim of its own success.
On one hand, the phenomenal growth in the fishing industry has been largely attributed to
overutilization of the country’s limited fishery resources. On the other hand,
overfishing—compounded by pollution (due to industrialization), land reclamation, and
expansion of aquaculture—has resulted in a rapid depletion of fish stocks in China’s
domestic waters, which poses a dire threat to the sustainability of its marine fishery
sector. Faced with declining fish stocks, Chinese fishermen have ventured out into the
country’s offshore waters, including disputed waters in the East and South China Seas, as
well as other countries’ EEZs and the high seas, to catch fish. This brings huge
challenges not only to the marine fishery sector but also to regional and global maritime
security especially in China’s near seas.
It is, thus, the aim of this paper to provide a comprehensive overview of the current status
of China’s fishing industry, and of the related government policies, and to offer some
insights on its future trends. Toward this purpose, this paper is organized as follows.
Section 2 provides an overview of the development of China’s fishing industry, with a
focus on the marine fishery sector. Section 3 analyses two major structural shifts in
China’s fishing industry and its impacts on regional and global maritime security. Section
4 discusses the government’s fishing policies that are largely responsible for these
structural shifts. Section 5 highlights a few key aspects affecting the future trends of the
development of China’s fishing industry. Finally, section 6 presents concluding
2. Overview of China’s Fishing Industry
China has the largest fishing industry in the world. In 2012, its fishery production
accounted for over one-third of global production. Included in this amount is China’s vast
2 China Fisheries Yearbook 2014 (China Fishery Yearbook Publishing House, 2014), pp. 7-15.
aquaculture industry, which represented over 60 percent of the global aquaculture
production.3 In terms of its catch of live fish from the ocean, China is also by far the
leading producer in the world. As shown in Table 1, in 2012 China caught over 17
percent of the global total. It is also the largest fishery trader in the world. As shown in
Table 2, in 2013 its fishery export reached nearly USD 20 billion, while imported fishery
products were worth USD 8 billion.
Table 1. Major Marine Catch Producers in the World, 2012
Rank Country Production
(millions of tonnes) % of the world
1 China 13.9 17.40
2 Indonesia 5.4 6.80
3 United States 5.1 6.41
4 Peru 4.8 6.03
5 Russian 4.1 5.10
6 Japan 3.6 4.53
7 India 3.4 4.27
8 Chile 2.6 3.23
9 Vietnam 2.4 3.03
10 Myanmar 2.3 2.93
11 Norway 2.1 2.70
12 Philippines 2.1 2.67
13 South Korea 1.7 2.08
14 Thailand 1.6 2.02
15 Malaysia 1.5 1.85
3 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture:
Opportunities and Challenges (Rome: FAO, 2014).
Source: FAO 2014.
Table 2. International Fishery Trade, 2013
Top 3 Exporters, 2013
(in USD billions) Top 3 Importers, 2013
(in USD billions)
China 19.6 USA 19.0
Norway 10.4 Japan 15.3
Thailand 7.0 China 8.0
Source: FAO, 2015.
In the past 35 years, since the Reform and Opening Up in 1978, China’s fishing sector
has experienced phenomenal growth. As Figure 1 shows, from 1978 to 2013, its annual
fishery production increased by more than 13 times—from 4.7 million tonnes to 61.7
million tonnes—with a remarkable growth rate of 7.6 percent per annum.
Figure 1. China’s Annual Fishery Production (millions of tonnes)
Source: China Fisheries Yearbook 2014.
1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
China's fishery production
The total value of China’s fishing industry reached RMB 1.9 trillion in 2013, which was
more than 850 times higher than that of 1979 (RMB 2 billion). The annual value added of
the fishing industry was RMB 675 billion in 2013. The share of the fishing industry in
China’s agriculture increased from 1.6 percent in 1978 to more than 22 percent in 2013.4
Fishery products play an important role in China’s international trade as well. China has
been the biggest exporter of fishery products in the world since 2002. In 2013, China
exported nearly 4 million tonnes of fishery products, with a total value of roughly
USD 20 billion, making fishery products China’s top agricultural export..
Over the past three decades, the number of people who work in China’s fishing industry
has increased by more than 10 million. The sector employed 14.4 million people in 2013
(Table 3). Among them, slightly over 7.1 million are traditional fishermen. Rapid
development of China’s fishing industry has greatly enriched the lives of the fishermen.
Based on official statistics, net annual income of the fishermen increased from RMB 93
in 1978 to more than RMB 13,000 in 2013,5 which was significantly higher than the
annual income of the farmers in 2013 (around RMB 8,900).6 This income difference
continues to attract more peasant workers from the China’s inland provinces to join the
fishing industry. In short, China’s fishing industry is of critical importance to national
food security, local economic development, and fishermen’s income growth.
Table 3. Fishing Workforce and Fishing Fleet
Number 1979 2013
Motorized fishing vessels 52, 225 694, 905
People in fishing workforce 2.65 million 14.43 million
Source: China Fisheries Yearbooks 1979 and 2014.
4 China Fisheries Yearbook 2014.
5 Refer to People’s Daily at http://english.people.com.cn/90778/7691714.html.
6 China’s Finance and Economic News, 2011, available at http://www.cfen.com.cn/web/cjb/2011-
In 1979, China had about 52,225 motorized ships7 with a total tonnage of 1.4 million;
most were small and old vessels. By 2013, China had 694,905 motorized vessels
associated with the fishing industry in one way or another. Of the motorized fishing
vessels, nearly 200,000 are marine (sea-going) fishing vessels and 2,460 are distant-water
fishing vessels—both are the largest in the world. 8
China is not only the biggest fishery producer, but also the largest fish processor. In 1979,
it had only 52 fishing processing companies,9 which employed 15,229 people and had an
annual processing output of less than 0.7 million tonnes. At the end of 2013, China had
9,774 fishing processing companies, with annual production of 19 million tonnes,
processing locally produced as well as imported fishery products for local sale and
export. Around 400,000 people, many young women, are estimated to work in China’s
fish-processing sector, which is concentrated around Qingdao in Shandong Province,
around Dalian in Liaoning Province, and in Fujian Province.10
3. Structural Changes in China’s Fishing Industry and Its Impacts
Beneath the phenomenal expansion of the overall production of China’s fishing industry
are two major structural changes. One is the remarkable shift of the fishery production
structure from catch dominance to aquaculture. In 1978, inland and marine catch
represented nearly 74 percent of the country’s total fishery production and aquaculture
only contributed 26 percent. However, in 2013, the trend was completely reversed, with
7 Unlike traditional sailing ships, motorized fishing vessels are those vessels powered by diesel or gasoline
engines. Motorized ships including inland catch vessels, vessels for aquaculture, fishing transportation
vessels, and marine catch vessels.
8 “Transform Development Mode, Become a Strong Distant-water Fishing Nation,” China Fishery Daily, 6
April 2015. Online version is available at http://szb.farmer.com.cn/yyb/images/2015-
9 Back in 1978, these companies were called “units” (danwei).
10 Refer to http://www.worldfishing.net/news101/regional‐focus/chinese‐processing‐industry‐to‐develop‐
aquaculture accounting for nearly 74 percent of the country’s total fishery production, as
show in Table 4.
Table 4. Production Structure of China’s Fishing Sector (millions of tonnes)
Year Total Aquaculture % Catch %
1978 4.65 1.21 26.11 3.44 73.89
1980 4.50 1.35 29.95 3.15 70.05
1985 7.05 3.12 44.23 3.93 55.77
1990 12.37 6.08 49.18 6.29 50.82
1995 25.17 13.53 53.76 11.64 46.24
2000 42.79 25.78 60.25 17.01 39.75
2005 51.02 33.93 66.51 17.08 33.49
2010 53.73 38.29 71.26 15.44 28.74
2013 61.70 45.40 73.58 16.30 26.42
Source: China Fisheries Yearbook 2014.
The second structural change is the outward expansion of China’s marine fishery sector,
which is evident on two fronts: the shift from inshore fishing to offshore fishing, and the
expansion of the county’s distant-water fishing fleet (see Table 5 for definitions).
Traditionally, inshore fishing has been the major marine fishing operation in China. As
Table 6 shows, inshore fishing represented nearly 90 percent of China’s total marine
catch in 1985, but in 2002 this figure dropped to 64.5 percent; in the meantime, the share
of offshore fishing increased steadily.
Table 5. Definitions of Inshore, Offshore, and Distant-water Fishing in China
Inshore fishing Fishing in the Bohai, Yellow Sea, the area within N33,
E125; N29, E125; N28, E124.5; N27, E123 in the East
China Sea, and the area east to E112 within 80 meter
isobath and west to E112 within 100 meter isobath in
the South China Sea.
Offshore fishing Fishing the area outside the N33, E125; N29, E125;
N28, E124.5; N27, E123 in the East China Sea
(including the waters near Diaoyu/Senkaku islands)
and the area east to E112 beyond 80 meter isobath and
west to E112 beyond 100 meter isobath in the South
China defines DWF as citizens, legal entities, and
other organizations of China engaging in marine
fishing and its processing, supply, and product
transportation activities on the high seas and in the sea
areas under the jurisdiction of other countries, but does
not include fishing activities in the Yellow Sea, East
China Sea, or South China Sea.
Source: Fisheries Law of the People's Republic of China.
Unfortunately, the statistics for inshore and offshore fishing at the national level were not
available after 2002. Data at the local level suggest that the shift from inshore to offshore
fishing continues. The production of inshore fishing dropped to 50.5 percent in Hainan
Province in 2007,11 and offshore catch made up close to 60 percent of Guangzhou’s total
marine catch in 2006.12
Table 6. China’s Marine Catch Structure
Year Inshore (%) Offshore (%) Total (%)
1985 89.85 10.15 100
11 More information is available at http://www.shuichan.cc/news_print.asp?id=13902
12 Guangzhou Yearbook 2007.
1986 89.39 10.61 100
1987 89.37 10.63 100
1988 88.45 11.55 100
1989 80.67 19.33 100
1990 80.38 19.62 100
1991 72.53 27.47 100
1992 69.72 30.28 100
1993 68.51 31.49 100
1994 67.09 32.91 100
1995 62.90 37.10 100
1996 67.10 32.90 100
1997 65.64 34.36 100
1998 69.07 30.93 100
1999 65.12 34.88 100
2000 65.62 34.38 100
2001 65.12 34.88 100
2002 64.49 35.51 100
Source: China Fisheries Yearbook (multiple years).
Next, distant-water fishing (DWF) has been expanding rapidly as well. Over the past 28
years, since it sent its first DWF fleet to West Africa in 1985, China’s DWF sector has
made remarkable achievements. As shown in Figure 3, the country’s annual production
of distant-water fishing reached 2 million tonnes in 2014. China has the largest distant-
water fishing fleet in the world: as already mentioned 2,460 vessels strong, with more
under construction.. China’s distant-water fishing fleet is now operating in 40 countries’
EEZs and in the high seas of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans, and, increasingly,
in the Antarctic Ocean.
Figure 2. Production of China’s Distant-water Fishing (millions of tonnes)
Source: China Fisheries Yearbook 2014 and China Fishery Daily 2015.
Given the gigantic scale of China’s fishing industry, this seaward expansion of China’s
marine fishing sector inevitably has a huge impact on the fishing industry of other
regional and global nations. Particularly since the shift from inshore to offshore fishing
has been accompanied by an increase in “illegal fishing” by Chinese fishermen. This
causes fishing disputes between China and regional countries, which sometimes escalate
into serious diplomatic and security issues.
“Transform Development Mode, Become a Strong Distant-water Fishing Nation,” China Fishery Daily,
6 April 2015, available at http://szb.farmer.com.cn/yyb/images/2015-04/06/01/406yy11_Print.pdf.
At the same time, rapid expansion of China’s DWF contributes to the further depletion
of global fishery resources. According to an estimate by the U.N. Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO), over 70 percent of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited
or depleted and the dramatic increase of destructive fishing techniques worldwide
destroys marine mammals and entire ecosystems.14 Although China claims that the
development of distant-water fishing has been based on cooperation with local
governments and enterprises, and China’s DWF contributes positively to local economic
development, 15 there have been reports accusing China’s distant-water fishing of
contributing to overfishing in Africa as well as in the Northwest Pacific.16
In addition to overfishing issues, many international commentators and maritime experts
attribute China’s outward expansion of its marine fishery sector to the country’s strategic
and political motives, arguing that China has been deliberately encouraging its fishermen
to undertake fishing activities in disputed waters in order to assert China’s maritime
claims in the South and East China Seas.17 Given its transboundary nature, marine fishing
certainly carries an important political and diplomatic function, particularly in waters
where disputes exist. For decades, it has been no secret that China, Vietnam, Philippines,
and other countries all consider fishermen to be important players in strengthening a
country’s maritime presence in the disputed waters. Financial and political support is
14 United Nations, “Overfishing: a threat to marine biodiversity,” on 10 Stories the world should hear more
about, available at http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/06/story.asp?storyID=800.
15 China claims that, in West Africa alone, its DSF operation has contributed tax and fees totaling over
RMB 800 million and its DSF enterprises have been actively involved in local disaster relief and other
socially responsible activities.
16 Tabitha Grace Mallory, Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission,
China as a Distant-water Fishing Nation, 26 January 2012.
17 Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Meet the Chinese Maritime Militia Waging a ‘People’s
War at Sea,’” Wall Street Journal, 31 March 2015, available at
at-sea/; Harry J. Kazianis, “China’s 50,000 Secret Weapons in the South China Sea,” National Interest, 30
July 2014; Johan Bergenas and Ariella Knight, “Fishing Wars: China’s Aggression Could Stoke Future
Conflict,” World Political Review, 19 February 2015; Alan Dupont and Christopher. G. Baker, “East Asia’s
Maritime Dispute: Fishing in Troubled Waters,” The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2014, pp. 79-98;
“Beijing creates armed militia to enforce S China Sea claims,” available at
provided to the fishermen to undertake fishing activities in the contested waters. And, on
an ad hoc basis, countries deploy fishermen and fishing boats to confront each other
during the maritime crisis. For instance, both China and Vietnam have dispatched fishing
vessels during the recent 981 oil rig row.18 However, it is wrong to suggest that the key
factor behind the growing number of fishing incidents involving Chinese fishermen is
that the government is using them to advance strategic goals. There are other factors at
First, the fishing incidents involving Chinese fishermen do not occur only in disputed
waters in the South China Sea and East China Sea, where China has an interest in
strengthening its maritime claims; rather, these incidents occur everywhere, including the
EEZs of South Korea, Russia, North Korea, Indonesia, and Palau.
Second, the relationship between the Chinese government and the fishermen is
complicated. On one hand, it is very difficult for the Chinese government to control and
manage its fishermen and prevent them from illegal fishing. On the other hand, fishermen
may have good reason to not trust the government officials—in the latest anti-corruption
campaign in Hainan, for example, a dozen officials from China’s fishery administration
were arrested for stealing or appropriating the fishermen’s fuel subsidy.19
Third, the Chinese government does not provide financial compensation for many
fishermen who are detained or harassed by neighbouring countries (with a few
exceptions). If they were acting as agents of the government, one would expect them to
receive compensatory payments. On the contrary, some fishermen were fined or
disqualified for a fuel subsidy by the Chinese government after they returned to China.20
18 See “A dangerous game in South China Sea,” Straits Times, 30 May 2014, available at
19 See Xinhuanews at http://news.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2014-05/09/c_1110619075.htm.
20 See http://news.ifeng.com/mainland/detail_2012_08/08/16638026_0.shtml, based on the author’s field
interview with the fishermen in Hainan and Fujian provinces in 2014; http://www.dailyqd.com/2014-
Fourth, while China has appeared to be more assertive in enforcing its maritime claims in
the East China Sea and South China Sea, maintaining regional maritime stability is still
its top priority. Thus, there is no reason for China to deliberately send its fishermen to the
disputed waters to stir up tensions with neighbouring countries. This is the very reason
why China banned the Chinese fishermen from fishing in waters near Scarborough Shoal
after the China and Philippines maritime standoff in 2012. Furthermore, China does not
provide a special fishing fuel subsidy for fishing in Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, despite calls
from fishermen and scholars.21
Therefore, while this political and geostrategic argument is appealing, it offers only a
partial explanation for the outward expansion of China’s marine fishery sector. In fact,
reality is that without expansion at sea Chinese fishermen would be “trapped” in the
country’s inshore waters which are being rapidly depleted.
4. China’s Problematic Marine Fishery Policies
As part of China’s agricultural industry, and given its transboundary nature, marine
fishery has five major policy objectives to fulfill, as shown in Figure 3:
The first and most important policy objective is ensuring supply of fishery
products, including high-quality proteins for human consumption and raw
materials for related industries.
The second objective is enriching fishermen’s lives and earning foreign reserve.
Development in the marine fishery sector can contribute to fishermen’s income
growth; given the comparative advantage of China’s marine fishery sector, it has
great potential for exports, which then generates foreign reserves for the country.
The third objective is protecting the marine environment through sustainable
fishing. Overfishing, pollution, and introduced species have had devastating
21 See, for instance, http://news.ifeng.com/mainland/special/diaoyudaozhengduan/content-
effects on the marine environment. On the other hand, sustainable fishing
practices—including construction of ocean artificial reefs, restocking, improving
water quality, and other measures—contribute to protection of the marine
The fourth objective is serving the country’s political and strategic interest. It is
recognized that promoting the development of the marine fishery sector will
contribute to safeguarding China’s maritime interest in the disputed waters. And,
a distant-water fishing fleet will enable China to expand fishery cooperation with
the international community and will contribute to China’s international strategy.
The last policy objective is related to the cultural and leisure life of Chinese
citizens. Fishing is one of the oldest economic sectors in China and increasingly
marine fishing tourism is becoming an important component of the modern
China faces difficult choices in attempting to balance these objectives. Unfortunately, to
date, China has elected to emphasize the marine fishery sector’s role in ensuring food
security and, to a lesser extent, making marine fishery more secure amid rising tensions
in the South China Sea and East China Sea. As a result conservation and international
cooperation have suffered the result is a looming fishing crisis.22
4.1 Overemphasis on Boosting Fishery Production and Fishermen’s Income
Since the fishing industry is considered an integral component of China’s agriculture.
China’s marine fishery sector is expected to contribute to China’s food security by
achieving self-sufficiency in fishery products. To meet the rising demand for fishery
products, boosting production has been considered the topic objective of the development
22 Yue Dong-dong and Wang Lu-min, “Analysis of the Current Status of Strategic Studies on China’s
Fishery Industry and a Preliminary Reflection,” Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology, 2013, No.
15 (4), pp. 168-175. The same view is also expressed by Tong Chunfeng in her book, Marine Fishery
Transition and Fishermen Transformation, 2007, Ocean University of China: Qingdao.
of fishery sector for decades. China’s fishery production increased from 5 million tonnes
in 1978 to 60 million tonnes in 2014.23 China not only achieved self-sufficiency in the
supply of fishery products, but also become the largest exporter of fishery products since
2002. In contrast, the sufficiency rate of fishery products in Japan, which has twice the
EEZs of China and one-tenth of its total population, is only around 60 percent.24 Not
surprisingly, this high rate of self-sufficiency is being achieved through overfishing
domestic fishery resources..
Facing a rising demand for fishery products with rising incomes of Chinese people and
constrained and declining catch production—particularly in its inshore water—the
Chinese government has made serious efforts to reform the production structure of its
fishing industry. The top priority has been given to promoting inland and marine fish
farming. This strategy has been quite successful in the sense that production of
aquaculture is currently accounting over 70 percent of total production of fishery
products in China. 25 Although the rapid development of aquaculture successfully
replaced the marine catch sector as the biggest contributor to the supply of fishery
products, the country’s marine catch sector is still under huge pressures to expand for
three major reasons.
First, aquaculture has a direct link to marine capture fisheries as fresh fish and fishmeal
are important sources of feeds for aquaculture. The preferred protein source in most
aquaculture is either fishmeal or “trash fish” (i.e., small fish forming the low-value
component of commercial catches). Rapid expansion of China’s aquaculture resulted in a
surge in demand for low-value trash fish and fishmeal, and this demand is driving the
further expansion of the country’s marine catch sector. China’s domestic production of
fishmeal has been falling far short of the rapidly rising demand, and China is by far the
world’s largest importer of fishmeal, bringing in an average of more than 1.1 million
23 China Fisheries Yearbook 2014.
25 China Fisheries Yearbook 2014.
tonnes per year from 2009 to 2013, according to the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil
Organization (IFFO) and Oil World statistics.26
Second, while aquaculture produces abundant and cheap fishery products, Chinese
consumers are increasingly concerned about the quality and safety of these fishery
products, particularly against the backdrop of widespread food safety scandals in China.
Reports on the overuse of antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals, as well as water
pollution problems in China’s aquaculture,27 have been leading to higher demand for
safer and better quality wild marine catch. This is especially the case now that the
country’s increasingly affluent middle class is able to afford it.
Third, overcapacity in the country’s onshore fishing processing sector increases pressure
on the marine catch sector. As demand for processed seafood rises, China’s fish
processing sector has been expanding rapidly. China is also by far the biggest fish
processer in the world. In 2013, China had 9,774 fish processing companies, with annual
processing capacity of 27.5 million tonnes. In the same year, however, China’s fish
processing sector produced 19.5 tonnes of fishery products, of which 80 percent are from
marine fishery and 20 percent are inland fishery. This indicates that the utilization rate of
China’s processing capacity was only slightly above 70 percent in 2013.28
Therefore, while the Chinese government has recognized the need to regulate its marine
catch, the safeguarding of the supply of its fishery products is still the overarching
principle that guides the development of the country’s fishing industry. As seen in the
country’s 12th five-year plan for the fishing industry, meeting the rising demand for
fishery products is listed as the fundamental objective of China’s fishing industry.29 In
recent years, facing the mounting challenge to achieve national food security, the notion
26 See http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/10/30/chinese-fishmeal-regulatory-changes-not-seen-
27 See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/15/world/asia/15fish.html?hp&_r=0.
28 China Fishery Yearbook 2014, p. 256.
29 Refer to China’s12th Five-Year Plan on Fishery Development, available at
http://www.moa.gov.cn/zwllm/ghjh/201110/t20111017_2357716.htm, accessed on 23 April 2012.
of “blue granary or a marine based food security” has emerged as a popular concept, and
sourcing food from the seas is being considered one of the key approaches to achieve
food security in China.30 A report in 2010, which was produced by a high-level task force
on strengthening the country’s DWF sector, argued that China cannot merely rely on its
resources on land and its territorial waters and EEZs to satisfy the country’s growing
demand for food. Instead, China should actively explore and make use of ocean
resources, particularly marine biological resources in the high seas because they are seen
as the largest store of protein.31
In addition, to safeguard the country’s food security, China implements the system of
provincial governors assuming responsibility for the "rice bag" (grain supply) program
and city mayors assuming responsibility for the "vegetable basket" (non-staple food
supply) program. Under this system, the sub-provincial leaders are held responsible for
ensuring a sufficient and stable supply of non-staples, including fishery products.
Moreover, as compared with the central government, which is concerned about food
security, local governments are more interested in the role of the marine fishery sector in
generating foreign reserve and boosting GDP.
In China’s coastal regions, particularly those less developed areas, marine fishery is being
considered as one of the pillars of local economy. In recent years, despite the fact China’s
agricultural trade registered a huge deficit—over 50 billion in 2014—China remains the
world’s biggest exporter of fishery products. For 12 consecutive years, China has been
the world’s largest exporter of fish and fish products. In 2013, China’s total export of
fishery products reached USD 20 billion, representing 15.6 percent of the global total.32
Thus, it is not surprising that many coastal regions set a very high growth rate for the
fishery sector. For example, China’s Hainan Province, which relies heavily on the marine
30 Qing Hong. “Research summary on the construction of marine food system.” Marine Sciences, 2015,
Vol. 39, No. 1.
31 Ji, Xiaonan, Shenli Liu, and Task Force. “To Support Distant-water Fishing as a Strategic
Industry.” China National Conditions and Strength, 2010, No. 9.
32 For more information, see http://news.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2014-06/30/c_1111384848.htm.
catch sector for economic development, set an annual growth target of 13.8 percent for its
fishing industry in its 12th Five-Year Plan for Fishery Development. It also intends to
boost the annual production value of the fishing industry to RMB 45 billion in 2015 and
its share in the province GDP to 12 percent.33
4.2 Halfhearted Efforts on Sustainable Development
Figure 4. China’s Annual Marine Catch Production
Source: China Fisheries Yearbook, multiple years.
In the mid-1990s, facing rapidly depleting fishery resources in its inshore waters as well
as deteriorating marine ecology due to overfishing and pollution, China implemented a
fishing ban in Bohai, the Yellow Sea, and later in the East China Sea and South China
Sea. In 1999, China introduced the Zero Growth Policy for marine fishery; in 2003, it
formally began to implement the Fishermen Transfer and Fishery Transition Programme,
which intends to preserve fishing resources and ensure sustainable development of the
fishing industry by reducing the number of fishing vessels and fishermen as well as
controlling marine catch intensity. However, because boosting production and increasing
33 Refer to http://www.gov.cn/gzdt/2011-03/10/content_1821502.htm.
1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
China's Marine Catch Production
income is still the overarching objective and the fishing fleet, to a certain degree, satisfies
a braoder political and strategic agenda, the country’s efforts to protect fishery resources
and ensure sustainable development of the sector are, not surprisingly, less effective than
they should be.
Looking at official data, the results seem quite impressive. In terms of marine catch
production, after the introduction of the Zero Growth Policy in the late 1990s, the
remarkable growth trend had indeed been reversed, showing negative growth or zero
growth throughout the first decade of the 21st century before gradually moving upward in
the last few years (Figure 2). Of the total number of marine fishery vessels, as shown in
Table 1 from 2004 to 2013, the size of the marine catch fleet decreased from 220,000 to
196,800, representing more than a 10-percent reduction in the country’s total fishing
While these achievements appear to be impressive, the reliability of the data remains in
question. Official data suggest that China’s marine catch production has not grown since
the late 1990s, but it is often argued that China, which was previously known to over
report its domestic marine catch, now underestimates its annual catch production. For
instance, according to research by a Chinese research team led by Lu Huosheng, a
professor at Guangdong Ocean University, China’s annual catch from the South China
Sea exceeded 4.8 million tonnes as compared with the official data of 3.4 to 3.5 million
tonnes in recent years.34 In 2012, a study conducted by European Parliament concluded
that the catch of China’s distant-water fleets is estimated at 4.6 million tonnes per year
globally for the 12-year period from 2000 to 2011, compared with an average of 368,000
tonnes per year reported by China to FAO. 35 One of the key reasons for the
underestimation of annual marine catch production is the existence of a large number of
“black ships”—fishing vessels without relevant legal permits. Taking Zhejiang Province,
34 See more at http://roll.sohu.com/20120627/n346613241.shtml
35 Roland Blomeyer, Ian Goulding, Daniel Pauly, Antonio Sanz and Kim Stobberup, “The Role of China In
World Fisheries”. Study Report. European Parliament. 2012.
for example, while official statistics indicate that in 2014 there were 22,000 fishing vessel
with relevant legal permits, there were also about 12,000 black ships.36
Table 7. China’s Marine Fishing Fleet
Year Number Total
(millions of KW)
2004 220,000 5,559,000 25.3 12338 56.1
2013 196,800 6,687,600 34.0 13614 69.2
2004-13 -10.55% 20.30% 34.48% 10.34% 23.35%
Source: China Fisheries Yearbook, multiple years.
Even though the official data show that the number of fishing vessels decreased, the
average size and horsepower of the fishing fleet improved significantly (Table 7). This is
primarily due to conflicting fishing subsidies provided by the government. For example,
after the introduction of reduction and transfer policy, China’s central fiscal agency
provided special funds to support the policy RMB 1.2 billion between 2002 to 2006In
comparison, in 2006 China made a historical decision to abolish the agricultural tax and
started subsiding agricultural production; as a subsector, marine fishery receives financial
support in the form of a fishing fuel subsidy. Parallel to the phenomenal increase in
China’s agricultural subsidy during the same period, the fishing fuel subsidy increased
from RMB 5.43 billion—88.6 percent of the central government’s total spending on
fishery in 2007—to RMB 23.4 billion in 2012.37 On an average basis under the Zero or
Negative Growth Policy, the government will provide RMB 2,500 per Kilowatt in 2011
for every ship downsized. In contrast, in some areas, under the fishing fuel subsidy,
fishermen will receive RMB 1,250 per Kilowatt per year.38 This means that, if a fishing
36 See news report from Chinanews available at http://www.chinanews.com/ny/2014/09-19/6608160.shtml
37 China Fishery Yearbook 2014.
38 Zhong Xiaojing, Yu Guoping, Zhou Wei and Ji Guangkun. “Advices on application of diesel subsidies in
fishery”. Fishery Information and Strategy. 2012. Volume 27, No 4. Pp:
boat owner participates in the government ship reduction programme he can get is only
two years of the fishing fuel subsidy.
The huge difference in the fuel subsidy and the financial support on fishermen transfer
and fishing boat reduction contributed to the boom of the fishing vessel building sector.
Some reports suggested that the country’s fishing vessel building price index jumped by
20 times between 2006 and 2012.39 The fishing fuel subsidy is provided to the fishing
boats with official fishing permits, and the amount of the money will be based on the
horsepower of the vessel regardless of the actual amount of fuel consumed and where the
fishing boat goes. The bigger the fishing vessel, the greater the fishing fuel subsidy it will
receive. To receive larger fishing fuel subsidies, the fishermen began to invest massively
in building new and larger fishing vessels. As no new fishing permits are issued,
fishermen with licenses improve their capacity to catch more fish by building bigger
boats. They are able to circumvent size limits by purchasing horsepower quotas from
With the bigger and better fishing boats, fishermen who were essentially limited to
fishing in inshore waters where few fish are available, venture further to sea—be it the
disputed waters in near Spratly Islands or Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands or even other
countries’ EEZs where fish are plentiful. The outward expansion of China’s marine
fishery sector is also partially due to the fact that China’s efforts to curb overfishing and
protect marine ecology primarily concentrated on inshore waters; while in the meantime,
the country encourages offshore and distant-water fishing.
Due to overfishing, pollution, and land reclamation, fish stocks in China’s traditional
fishing grounds have quickly depleted. Seventy percent of China’s beaches are polluted,
and 50 percent of tidal wetlands have disappeared. The Bohai fishing ground, Zhoushan
fishing grounds, the coastal fishing grounds of South China Sea, and the Beibu Gulf
39Shi Chunbio. Fisherman has no fish to catch, but fishing vessel horsepower index increased 20 times in 7
years. Qianjiang Evening New. 17 December 2013.
fishing grounds now exist in name only.40 In particular, big fish in China’s Bohai are
almost gone, and the annual production of small fish is less than 10 percent its peak
Meanwhile, to ensure a stable supply of fishery products and protect fishermen’s
livelihood, China encourages its fishermen to go further into the seas to make a living.
During his visit to the Tanmen fishing town in 2013, Xi Jinping urged Chinese fishermen
need to “build bigger ships and venture even further into the oceans and catch bigger
fish.”42 In practical terms that meant offshore fishing near the Spratly Islands and distant-
In 1999, China introduced a fishing ban in South China Sea. This annual fishing ban lasts
from May 16 to August 1, covering areas north of the 12th parallel, including
Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island). Since the Spratlys are south of this line they are
not covered by the ban and, and Chinese fishermen receive an additional fishing fuel
subsidy, called the Spratly Islands Special Fuel Subsidy as an incentive to fish there. The
Spratly fuel subsidy was introduced in 1995 since at that time not many Hainan
fishermen ventured that far south. Over the past twenty years, this has changed
dramatically. As fish stocks in China’s inshore waters have been depleted and
competition has intensified with the introduction of bigger and more powerful ships,
more fishermen are applying for fishing permits to fish in waters near the Spratly Islands.
In 2013, China established a “South China Sea fishery resources survey and evaluation
programme” which was justified by a two year study that claims that there are over 1.8
million tonnes of fishery resources in waters near the Spratly Islands with annual
catchable amounts around 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes, as well as over 20 high-value
40 See more at http://photo.china.com.cn/news/2014-12/09/content_34269221.htm
41 See news report from People.cn, available at http://opinion.people.com.cn/n/2015/0311/c159301-
42 Minnie Chan. “Xi's fishermen visit seen as warning to South China Sea neighbours,” South China Sea
Morning Post, 10 April 2013.
fishery species.43 This makes the Spratlys a valuable fishing ground for China. Of course
it is also a valuable fishing ground for Southeast Asian countries, especially Vietnam,
Indonesia, and Philippines. As a result there is growing competition for access to Spratly
fishing grounds which means fishing disputes and the detention of “illegal” fishermen by
all the nations involved will continue to be a source of tension in this half of the South
Promoting distant water fishing is the other approach emphasized by the Chinese
government to address domestic demand, supply imbalance of fishery products, and to
provide work for fishermen.44 While the remarkable development of DWF is celebrated
as a Chinese governmental success story and an important approach to alleviate China’s
domestic resource shortages, the international community is worried that massive
expansion of China’s DWF could lead to localized depletions and declines in catch rates
across the fisheries around the world and jeopardize the livelihoods of locally owned
small-scale fishermen in many poor countries. In October 2014, international suspicions
about China’s DWF seemed to be confirmed when the China Tuna Industry Group’s was
preparing to float an IPO. The draft IO prospectus stated China would not crack down on
companies engaged in illegal fishing because it never had in the past, and that the catch
limits set by the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations apply only to China the
country, not to actual Chinese fishing boats.45
4.3 Fishermen and Growth of Maritime Militia46
43 See news report from People.cn, available at http://politics.people.com.cn/n/2015/0224/c1001-
44 Another point worth noting is that lobbying by the industrial and local government is also one of the
factors contributing to the development of distant-water fishing in China. Government of Qingdao, which is
the leading processor and exporter of high-value cold fish, and its local scholars are the key force behind
the “Blue Granary” concept, and companies such as China National Agricultural Development Group are
also using the food security narrative to gain more fiscal support from the government for their expansion.
45 Shannon Service. “Tuna firm's bungled IPO exposes China's flouting of global fishing rules,” The
Guardian, 27 October 2014, available at http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-
46 The militia is an armed mass organization not released from production. It is a reserve force of the PLA
and the basis for the prosecution of a people's war under modern conditions. The General Staff
Although it is an over exaggeration for some commentators to conclude that China is
intent on waging a “People’s War” at sea, it is also true that the Chinese government has
taken efforts to strengthen the fishermen’s role in protecting the country’s maritime
interests in the disputed waters. Developing a strong fishing fleet is considered an
integral to becoming a maritime power. In 2013, during the aforementioned Xi Jinping’s
visit to the Tanmen fishing town of Qionghai City in Hainan Province, he met the
members of the maritime militia and told them that “the maritime militia members should
not only lead fishing activities, but also collect oceanic information and support the
construction of islands and reefs.” He went on to also praise fishermen for protecting
China’s maritime interests in the disputed waters in South China Sea. 47Amid the rising
tensions in the South China Sea and East China Sea, renewed attention is being given to
the development of maritime militia. Some Chinese scholars and security experts have
been advocating that maritime militia should be China’s first line of defence in the South
China Sea and East China Sea.48 In the past few years, several coastal cities have
established maritime militia units.49
While development of maritime militia has long been stressed by Chinese leaders and
military officials, thanks to Xi it gained new momentum. Since April 2013, numerous
articles have been published in the PLA Daily and National Defence Magazine urging for
more support to develop maritime militia forces, and more financial resources were
allocated to provide training for the fishermen and subsidy for building new fishing
Headquarters administers the building of the militia under the leadership of the State Council and the CMC.
Under the command of military organs, the militia in wartime helps the standing army in its military
operations, conducts independent operations, and provides combat support and manpower replenishment
for the standing army. In peacetime, it undertakes the tasks of performing combat readiness support, taking
part in emergency rescue and disaster relief efforts, and maintaining social order. See more at
47 China Daily, “President pays visit to Hainan fishermen,” 11 April 2012, available at
48 See more at http://mil.huanqiu.com/Observation/2012-06/2862590.html, and
49 See story of Guangdong’s maritime militia force at
http://news.ifeng.com/mil/jqgcs/detail_2013_07/11/27393462_0.shtml; establishment of maritime militia
force in Pingtan of Fujian province at http://fjnews.fjsen.com/2014-05/20/content_14115523.htm; and
maritime militia force of Sansha at http://www.hinews.cn/news/system/2014/07/29/016828346.shtml.
vessels.50 Consequently, many coastal cities have quickly set up maritime militia units in
recent years. In the past, China’s maritime militia forces normally relied on renting the
fishing vessels of the fishermen or fishing companies, but it appears that China is
building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in South China Sea.
China’s Hainan Province has ordered the building of 84 large militia fishing vessels for
Sansha City; 10 fishing vessels will be delivered in 2015.51
But like so many other contradictions in China’s fishery policies, the maritime militia
policy is in conflict with the desire to curb overfishing and protect marine resources. The
establishment of maritime militia across the country means that more financial support
will flow to the marine fishery sector, which attracts more fishermen and further spurs the
construction of new fishing vessels. In addition, patriotism could be used by some
fishermen to cover their illegal fishing activities that harm marine ecology. For example,
instead of fishing in the Spratlys more and more fishermen have turned from fishing to
harvesting endangered giant clams, for the giant clam handicraft and aphrodisiac
industries which offer bigger profits. Similarly, in the East China Sea, as prices of red
coral have skyrocketed in recent years, fishermen from Zhejiang and Fujian go after the
red coral in the waters near the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. Driven by huge profits,
some Chinese fishermen even travel hundreds of kilometers to waters near Japan’s
Ogasawara to poach coral from the seabed.52
4.4. Recreational Fishing on the Rise
Apart from providing both employment and a way of life for many, fishing has always
been an important cultural function in terms of promoting stronger families and
communities. In recent years, as increasingly affluent urban dwellers want to temporarily
50Wang Xinhai.2014. “Paths to push forward new model of marine border defence and civil military
51 See http://www.sansha.gov.cn/page.php?xuh=1624; 关于在文昌木兰头规划建设三沙战略腹地和民兵
52 See more at http://mil.huanqiu.com/Observation/2012-06/2862590.html and
escape from fast-paced urban life and enjoy the natural beauty of the rural areas,
recreational fishing has been booming in China. Meanwhile, as the Chinese marine
fishery sector suffers from overcapacity and declining fishery stocks, the Chinese
government sees the recreational fishing as an important approach to provide alternative
employment and incomes to the fishermen and to push forward economic structural
From 2005 to 2010, China’s recreational fishery sector had growth at 22.6 percent per
annum, and China’s 12th Five-Year Plan for Fishery Development identified recreational
fishing as one of the five major modern fishery sectors that will be made a priority for
future development. 53 Although rapid growth of recreational fishing has not only
enriched the Chinese social life but also provided significant economic benefits for the
fishermen, it brings concerns as well. For instance, in 2013, China began running tourism
cruises to the disputed Paracel Islands as one way to demonstrate Chinese sovereignty
while promoting local economic development. However, reports show that some tourists
have been poaching endangered marine species, including reefer sharks and red coral,
thus threatening marine ecology and sustainability of the fishery sector.54
5. Future Trends of China’s Fishing Industry
Although the Chinese government has made efforts toward liberalizing the country’s
fishing industry, the future development trajectory of the sector will continue to depend
on the evolvement of government fishing policies, which will largely be determined by
how China balances the above-mentioned five policy objectives.
5.1 Key Driving Factors
First and foremost, food security concern will continue to be a big, or perhaps an even
bigger, driver for the future development of China’s fishing industry. As China is facing
53 See http://www.yyj.moa.gov.cn/bjwj/201212/t20121212_3103375.htm.
54 See more at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1699255/tourists-fishing-endangered-species-
increasing difficulties to feed its growing and increasingly affluent population, it is
looking to the seas for food. Although China has achieved 11 consecutive years of
increase in grain production from 2003 to 2014, the gap in its grain demand and supply
continues to widen. In 2014, China’s grain import reached 100 million tonnes,
representing a 300-percent increase from 2003 figures. And the country’s grain self-
sufficiency rate was 84 percent in 2014, falling below the official target of 95 percent.55
China’s imports of pork, beef, and poultry products experienced dramatic increases as
well. Given that it is increasingly challenging for the country to maintain food self-
sufficiency, China is hoping that its fishing industry, which enjoys a global comparative
advantage, will play a bigger role in feeding its people.
Because of rising incomes, the Chinese diet has already become increasingly diversified,
including more high-quality proteins such as fish.. And the Chinese government has
introduced plans to increase the share of fishery products in the Chinese diet. On 10
February 2014, China’s State Council officially published the “National Program for
Food and Nutrition Development (NPFND (2014-2020)).” This program focuses on
safeguarding effective food supply, optimizing food structure, and improving the
nutritional status of residents.56 In the case of high-quality protein consumption, it
appears that China intends to reduce the country’s meat consumption, which is
traditionally dominated by pork, while promoting higher intakes of fishery products.
In June 2013, at the “National Tele-conference on Efforts to Develop a Modern Fishing
Industry,” China’s vice premier, Wang Yang, highlighted that, because China is facing
severe scarcity of land and water resources, to meet the ever-rising demand for food,
China must have a grand resources and food security strategy that is to be supported by a
diversified food supply.57 He then stressed that China has vast marine territories and rich
fishery resources, which offer great potential for future development; thus, developing a
55 See more at http://china.huanqiu.com/hot/2015-03/5844227.html.
56 State Council. 2014. “National Program for Food and Nutrition Development (NPFND 2014-2020).”
57 See more at http://www.gov.cn/guowuyuan/2015-03/30/content_2840388.htm.
modern fishing industry will boost the supply of fishery products and meet the rising
demand for high-quality animal protein, contributing to the country’s food security.58
The second driver for the fishing industry is its contribution to China’s economic
development. In its 12th Five-Year Plan, China the marine economy is tied to the national
strategy. The plan states; “promote the development of marine economy, adhere to the
land and sea to co-ordinate development, formulate and implement marine economy
development strategy, improve marine development, control, and comprehensive
management ability.”59 A strong and thriving fishing economy is considered an important
part of its marine economy. In 2011, China approved Zhoushan,60 which holds China's
largest offshore fishing ground and has a fishery sector worth around RMB 15 billion a
year, as the country's fourth state-level new district to promote marine economy.61 And,
in April 2015, China’s Ministry of Agriculture issued the study “Opinions on Building
the National Distant-water Fishing Base in Zhoushan.” According to this document,
Zhoushan will build the national port for DWF, international fishery center, pelagic
processing and logistic zone and repair center for a DWF fleet. It aims to achieve DWF
sector total production value of RMB 30 billion by 2020.62
In terms of fishery trade, China expects that the sector will continue to expand.
According to China’s 2015 Agricultural Report, in the next 10 years, China’s fishery
sector will continue to expand and the country will remain as the leading exporter for
fishery products. It is forecasted that fishery production in 2020 will reach 73 million
tonnes, 77 million tonnes by 2024, and catch production will reach 17 million tonnes. In
terms of fishery trade, it is expected that, by 2024, China’s fishery export will reach 5.4
million tonnes, up from 4.3 million tonnes in 2015.63
59 China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, 2012.
60JustsouthofShanghaiontheEastChinaSea,Zhoushan is a prefecture-level island city in northeastern
Zhejiang Province of Eastern China.
61 See Xinhua news at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011-07/07/c_13971902.htm.
62 See http://www.zj.xinhuanet.com/newscenter/focus/2015-04/23/c_1115059066.htm.
63 See http://www.agri.cn/V20/SC/jjps/201504/t20150421_4538195.htm.
In addition, as the “One Belt-One Road” strategy has become the central focus of China’s
international strategy, strengthening fishing cooperation with regional countries is
considered one of the key dimensions in building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Officials from both central government and China’s major fishing provinces, such as
Zhejiang, Shandong, Fujian, and Guangxi, have been actively advocating that fishing
development needs to be incorporated into China’s One Belt-One Road strategy.64 Some
have been even promoting the idea that fishing cooperation should become a priority in
China’s efforts to building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which provides
additional incentives for China to develop its marine fishery sector.65
The third and final driver is the fact that China’s Maritime Power Strategy calls for a
stronger marine fishery sector. In December 2012, the 18th Party Congress Work Report
by China’s former President, Hu Jintao, pledged that China would enhance its capacity
for exploiting marine resources, develop the marine economy, protect the marine
ecological environment, and resolutely safeguard China's maritime rights and interests.
Hu’s report represented a broad policy consensus by the party leadership that China
should aspire to become a maritime power.66 While China has been paying growing
attention to the country’s maritime interests for more than a decade, following its
growing integration in the global economy, placing the safeguard of maritime interests
and the goal of becoming a maritime power in the Congress report makes these issues
central to the party’s policy agenda.
A strong marine fishery sector is important to China’s efforts to become a maritime
power. As discussed above, the strengthening maritime militia will be helpful protecting
China’s maritime interests in disputed waters, particularly in the South China Sea, while
expanding China’s distant-water fishing is also seen as contributing to China’s growth as
64 See http://www.dnkb.com.cn/archive/info/20140909/072718147605167_1.shtml; see Zhoushan Daily
News available at http://www.zhoushan.cn/zdzt/zjy/zxbd/201504/t20150422_709567.htm.
65 See http://www.cfmi.org.cn/index.php?m=content&c=index&a=show&catid=19&id=1147.
66 18th Party Congress Report.
a maritime power.67 In 2010, a report published by a task force composed of 12 people
affiliated with the State Council, Chinese DWF companies, industry associations, and
universities that advocate supporting and strengthening China’s DWF sector argued that:
DWF helps to safeguard China’s ocean interests and seek international space for
DWF can play a critical role in times of crisis in foreign countries to evacuate
overseas Chinese, and
DWF can provide crucial assistance to the Chinese Navy in terms of developing
China’s knowledge base with respect to prevailing local conditions, and can
provide logistics and supply to the navy when operating in the blue water.68
In November 2012, China’s Ministry of Agriculture issued “Opinions on Promoting
Sustainable and Healthy Development of Distant-water Fishing,” which stressed that
DWF is of strategic importance to China as it helps to safeguard national maritime
interest, enhance China’s international status, and influence and solidify China’s
cooperation with foreign countries. Since the 18th Party Congress, this strategic role of
DWF has been further recognized, and both the central and local governments have been
providing huge financial and political support to develop China’s DWF.69
5.2 In 2013 a Paradigm Shift in China’s Marine Fishing Policy
Since the 1990s, facing rapid depletion of fishery stock due to overfishing and the signing
of bilateral fishermen agreements with Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan, China has
followed a strategy of making aquaculture a priority while coordinating the development
67 Phillip C. Saunders, Christopher D. Yung, Michael Swaine, and Andrew Nien-Dzu Yang (eds.), 2011,
The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles, Washington, D.C.: National Defense
University Press (p. 84).
68 Task Force, 2010. Supporting and Strengthening Distant-water Fisheries,
69 For instance, Fujian government, http://www.fujian.gov.cn/zwgk/flfgjd/201410/t20141020_885379.htm;
Qingdao government, http://qdcz.qingdao.gov.cn/czj/2/5/45/54/131206050312489867.html; Shandong
government, http://www.shandong.gov.cn/art/2015/1/7/art_464_44074.html; and Liaoning government,
of catch sector and aquaculture. Under this strategy, the central government introduced
the Zero Growth Policy to control the annual production of China’s marine catch, and
took steps to reduce the number of fishermen and fishing vessels. Hence, during this
period, the outward expansion of China’s marine fishery sector was largely the result of
fishermen’s own economic motivation, as well as the support from the local
Since the 18th Party Congress, however, there has been a convergence of interests among
all key players, including the central government fishermen and local government and
commercial interests to expand China’s maritime fishery sector. Most notable is the shift
of central government policies aimed at restraining the development of marine fishery to
one of actively promoting the expansion of the marine fishery sector. This is reflected in
the greater emphasis the marine fishery sector receives in its national strategies.
Specifically statements of intent that address safeguarding national food security,
expanding the marine economy, constructing the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and
most important, building China into a maritime power.
On 8 May 2013, China’s state council issued “Several Opinions of the State Council on
Promoting the Sustainable and Healthy Development of Ocean Fishing Industry.” This is
the first time since the establishment of the People’s Republic that China has issued an
official guiding document on the development of marine fishery in the name of the State
Council.70 While this document appears to be a summary of China’s previous fishing
policy (stressing such things as the need to protect the marine environment, curb inshore
fishing, and promote offshore and distant-water fishing), it, in fact, reflects a paradigm
shift in China’s marine fishing policies. The guidance of “Several Opinions of the State
Council on Promoting the Sustainable and Healthy Development of Ocean Fishing
Industry” addressed new objectives for China’s marine fishery sector. One, marine
fishery sector should be included as an element pf into China’s Maritime Power
Strategy. It also called for speeding up the structural adjustments and indicated that
70 See more at http://finance.people.com.cn/n/2013/0626/c1004-21982738.html.
safeguarding the country’s maritime interests will be the main theme of the future
development of marine fishery sector.71 This document will no doubt have a tremendous
impact on the future development of China’s marine fishery sector.
6. Concluding Observations
China is not neglecting marine ecology protection as a top priority. The central
focus of its environmental protection efforts will still be on curbing inshore fishing. In
2014, China invested 400 million RMB on protecting marine fishery resources, and more
than 75 percent of the money was spent on releasing fish stocks in China’s inshore
waters.72 China will not approve the building of several types of fishing vessels that are
considered highly damaging to the marine environment and fishery resources, including
bottom trawling fishing ships, set stow net ships, and light seining ships. China is also
planning to reform the Fishing Boat Reduction and Fishing Fuel Subsidy Programmes,
hoping to consolidate them to achieve the policy goal of protecting fishery resources and
promoting fishing structural change. In addition, China will continue to impose fishing
bans in China’s inshore waters and is considering raising the entry requirement for
inshore fishing.73 Furthermore, China also started to run fishing quota pilot programmes
in inshore waters in some provinces, which could be expanded throughout the country in
Offshore fishing and distant-water fishing, however, will not be adversely affected by the
country’s efforts to protect the marine environment. On the contrary, to ensure a steady
supply of wild fishery products, absorb the excess fishing labor and fishing vessels from
the decrease in inshore fishing, as well as to contribute to China’s maritime power
strategy, China aims to expand its offshore fishing and further encourage distant-water
71 State Council. 2013. “Several Opinions of the State Council on Promoting the Sustainable and Healthy
Development of Ocean Fishing Industry.” More information from news release of Ministry of Agriculture,
on 26 June 2013, is available at http://www.moa.gov.cn/zwllm/zwdt/201306/t20130626_3504906.htm.
73For instance, certain types of fishing vessels that are very damaging to marine ecology will not be
allowed to undertake fishing activities.
fishing. 74 In 2012, China initiated an RMB 8-billion fishing vessel rebuilding programme
that aims to modernize the country’s fishing fleet. Small, old, and energy-intensive
fishing vessels are being scrapped, and the central government will invest up to 30
percent of the total investment to build new fishing vessels. At the local level, more
financial support is provided to the fishermen to encourage them to building bigger and
better ships. For instance, under its “Ten Thousand Fishing Vessel Rebuilding
Programme,” Jiangsu Province allocated RMB 178 million to support the reconstruction
of over 700 vessels in 2014.75
Similarly, China plans to control the intensity of inshore aquaculture and promote
offshore aquaculture-ocean farming.76 Rapid expansion of China’s aquaculture has
contributed greatly to China’s food security, but intensive farming practices and overuse
of chemical inputs have led to serious environmental pollution and raised food safety
concerns. As a result, China sees ocean farming as an important alternative for future
development. In 2014, China spent RMB 94 million on building demonstration ocean
Based on National Marine zoning plans issued by the State Council in 2012, China has
assigned different priorities for fisheries development in the country’s four marine
zones—Bohai, Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea. For Bohai and Yellow
Sea, China intends to control marine fishing, restore fishery stock, and promote the
development of modern aquaculture and ocean farms. For East China Sea, China intends
to step up protection for its major fishing grounds and promote the development of
distant-water fishing. For South China Sea, China intends to further utilize the fishery
resources in such waters as Beibu Gulf, Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands. In
addition, it also intends to boost the development of marine tourism, including
74 This information comes from several Opinions of the State Council on Promoting the Sustainable and
Healthy Development of Ocean Fishing Industry.
75 See http://gjzx.jschina.com.cn/20219/201410/t1705174.shtml.
76 Traditional aquaculture normally takes place in coastal waters; offshore aquaculture, or ocean farming, is
an emerging approach to aquaculture in which fish farms are moved some distance offshore.
77 See http://www.farmer.com.cn/jjpd/hyyw/201505/t20150504_1030285.htm.
recreational fishing in the South China Sea. Ocean farming in the South China Sea is
considered an important approach to develop the fishery sector as well. With the
completion of China’s land reclamation project in the South China Sea by the end of
2015, offshore fishing, recreational fishing and ocean farming in the South China Sea
will be further boosted
Finally it is hard not to be impressed with the tremendous expansion of China’s fishing
industry since 1978.. China is now the biggest fish producer in the world with annual
fishery production accounting for over one-third of the global total. It is also the world’s
top exporter and one of the major importers of fishery products.
But, rapid development of fishery production has being achieved through overfishing,
and the concomitant depletion of fish in its near waters. China’s problematic fishing
policies, particularly the fishing fuel subsidy policy and maritime militia policy,
undermine its efforts to curb overfishing and continue to spur further expansion of its
fishing capacity. Overcapacity of China’s fishing fleet and depleting fishery resources in
China’s inshore waters have resulted in dramatic structural changes of its marine fishing
sector—a shift from inshore to offshore fishing and expansion of distant-water fishing.
These structural changes, though largely beneficial to China, bring huge challenges to
regional and global fishery sector and maritime security.
The convergence of interests among all key players, including the central government
fishermen and local government and industrial interests, have resulted in the decision to
view the fishing industry in strategic terms; highlighting its role in safeguarding national
food security, expanding its marine economy, contribution to the 21st Century Maritime
Silk Road, and most important, contributing to the objective of building China into a
Maritime Power. This means that, at the regional level, fishery disputes between China
and regional countries will probably intensify and, at the global level, expansion of
China’s distant-water fishing will further jeopardize the world’s fishery resources.