12 / 1997
As a result of the ongoing process of liberalisation, China’s economy is expanding at a rate of 15 to 20 per cent a year. There is a huge demand for fish to feed the burgeoning population, especially in urban centres like Beijing.
China is proud of its 7,000 years of fishery management, especially the fact that it is the world’s largest producer of fish for the past three years. Fishery production is increasing rapidly and the average yearly increment of 8.6 per cent is over twice the world rate of 3.9 per cent increase in fisheries output for the same period. Fishery production has increased from 450,000 tonnes in 1949-50 to 17 million tonnes in 1993, a sixth of the total world production.
The fishery sector in China has gone through several phases. The fast development of the 1950s, during the recovery from the civil war, was followed, in the 1960s, by overexploitation and fluctuations. Then, in the 1970s, came serious overfishing and slower development. Though production still increased at four per cent each year, there were serious collapses of prime stocks, such as yellow croaker. During the 1980s, development was further quickened, but with a rapid reformation of fisheries management.
A new fishery policy took effect in 1985. The government encouraged people to protect their fisheries. As a result of the new policy, from the mid-1980s until 1990, China’s marine fisheries grew. A system of surveillance was developed and anecdotal evidence suggests that penalties are severe.
Since 1979, China’s fishing fleet expanded sixfold to 300,000 vessels. Distant-water operations began in 1985 with joint ventures in West Africa. By 1989, there were 16 enterprises employing 2000 people and operating more than 98 vessels in many parts of the globe. Since then, further expansions have taken place.
The 1985 policy also stressed heavily on aquacultural development and brought in the Blue Revolution in aquatic ecosystems. By encouraging aquaculture production in both fresh- and salt water, marine fisheries were sought to be protected. With some assistance from the World Bank, it led to an active policy to `make China’s fisheries industry get rid of the limitation of fishing from natural resources’.
China’s coastline of over 32,000 km and 14 million hectares of shallow water within a 15 m isobath, as well as tidal wasteland, is good for aquaculture. Already, about 20 to 25 per cent of the area has been developed for the culture of shellfish especially prawns, eels and laver.
China, in fact, appears to be leading the world in a transition from capture to culture fisheries, from self-sustaining wild biodiversity to artificially cultured systems requiring huge inputs of feedstock, energy and antibiotics.
While production of both capture and culture fisheries is growing and the general scenario appears optimistic, the picture is not without problems. According to one estimate, the fishing grounds off China, comprising nearly a fourth of the world’s total offshore fishing grounds, are some of the most productive in the world. They have, however, suffered as a result of offshore overfishing and depletion of fishery resources. Hence, they provide only a tenth of the world’s fishing catch.
Major companies, like the Shanghai Marine Fisheries Development Company, are desperately seeking joint ventures overseas, since little fish is available locally. This company is also trying to diversify into marine transport.
While this company is struggling to find work for its vessels, elsewhere, China is rapidly modernising its fleet. Neighbouring Fujian Province is using assistance from the European Union to improve the safety and equipment of vessels and for training crew to fish in deeper waters. With demersal and semi-pelagic resources depleted, hope now lies in smaller pelagics further offshore.
Aquaculture, too, is facing problems. While production from aquaculture has increased manifold, diseases have been common. In Zhejiang Province, for instance, 97 per cent of the prawns produced are dying from diseases resulting from water pollution.
While fish production in China is increasing, some cause for concern remains. Even as the catch from marine capture fisheries goes up, reports indicate that fishery grounds in many areas are depleted, and that many species are being overfished. Further, domestic companies are actively diversifying or entering into joint-venture agreements just to keep afloat. While aquaculture has developed rapidly, boosting total production, the prevalence of disease in cultured species continue to haunt producers and affect production. Fishery management initiatives in China need to repond to these issues.
Artículos y dossiers
LEITH, Duncan, Where the world is headed in. Samudra Report, 1994/12, 10 11