Sunday, April 16, 2017

Fisheries at the Heart of South China Sea Dispute

Although the South China Sea covers only 2.5 percent of the Earth’s surface, it is home to some of the world’s richest reef systems and over 3,000 fish species, comprising about 12 percent of the total global fish catch.

Since 2008 virtually all fisheries are in serious decline. Roughly 25% have collapsed entirely, 25% are seriously over-exploited and the rest is fully-exploited. The situation is getting much worse.

Catches now consist of smaller species whose populations have increased as natural predators have been over-fished — a phenomenon known as “fishing down the food web.”
The fishing industry is critical to China’s economy. Fishing revenues make up about 3 percent of China’s GDP and generate up to $279 billion (1.732 trillion RMB) annually. China employs between 7 and 9 million fishermen (over 14 million industry-wide) who operate over 450,000 fishing vessels, half of which are ocean going. This is the largest fleet on Earth.

Fish is increasingly important to the Chinese diet. China’s fish consumption grew annually at 6 percent between 1990 and 2010. China consumes 34 percent of the global fish food supply, over five times the amount of North America. Further, China’s fish consumption will increase 30 percent to over 41 kilograms per capita by 2030.
China perceives its access to disputed fisheries as declining and foreign fishermen are “killing the chicken to harvest its eggs”. Chinese fishermen widely complain of foreign harassment.

Fishing is equally important to other countries. The Philippines employ some 1.5 million fishermen and the industry accounts for 2.7 percent of national GDP. Fish comprises some 35.3 percent of all animal proteins consumed in Vietnam and in the Philippines and Indonesia that number is even higher—42.6 percent and 57.3 percent.

As one Filipino senator put it, retaining access to fisheries in the face of Chinese advances is not a matter of economics, but of “starvation.”