Aquaculture for all

South China Fishermen Face Troubled Times

Sustainability +1 more

CHINA - China's marine fishery industry has embraced its growth during the last few decades, but problems including over-fishing and declines in the number of willing workers have come to threaten resources and arouse concern over the industry's future.

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Fan Chengjin, a 44-year-old fisherman in the Beibu Gulf of south China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, barely recognizes his working life as the same one he had in the 1980s.

"Back then, the fish we got with only one net could easily fill the whole fishing vessel," he says, "but things changed with the emergence of motor boats." Indicating the rush to mine the fishy riches found at one point under China's waters, the number of motor fishing vessels increased sharply from the 1990s. In Qiaogang Town, where Fan lives, it jumped from around 100 to more than 1,000, he says.

According to statistics from the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, serious exploitation of the country's offshore fishing resources started from the end of 1960s. Meanwhile, China's fleet of motor fishing vessels surged from 10,000 to over 200,000 within 30 years.

"Fishing resources shrank sharply with the increase of boats," remembers Fan Chengquan, Fan Chengjin's older brother. "Only finger-sized sardines and sharks can be found now."

"In fishing seasons, boats from both Qiaogang and other places come here in swarms. There will never be enough fish for all of them," he adds.

Guidelines and regulations introduced by the Chinese government such as strictly implementing off-season policies and controlling offshore fishing have failed to reverse the shrinking of fishery resources.

However, fish are not the only thing that Beibu Gulf fishermen lack.

"We need to recruit 7,000 workers this year, seven for each boat, but we have only got 5,000 so far," says Wu Fangquan, head of the local aquaculture association.

Labor shortages in recent years have worsened the industry's plight, worrying the stalwart older generation still plying their trade at sea.

"The salary, which has surged from 2,000 yuan per month five years ago to 6,000 yuan per month now, is still not high enough to attract young workers," says boat owner Liang Jinghao.

According to Fan Chengjin, it's hard to depend on the second or third generation of fishermen since there are not enough children in the family following the one-child policy.

"Besides, fishing is no longer the ideal job for older fishermen to choose for their children," he adds.

Marine experts suggest offering subsidies to fishermen during fishing bans to guarantee their basic interests, and in the meantime, maintaining current policies to promote sustainable development of marine fishing with a focus on protecting marine resources and the ecological environment.

Li Keping, a deputy of the National People's Congress who used to be a fisherman, stresses the importance of cultivating a new generation of workers to man the boats and lines.

"The new generation will help in providing intellectual support to the further development and upgrading of the industry," Mr Keping believes.

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