China is the world’s largest producer of wild-caught fisheries.1 It also operates the world’s largest fishing fleet2 – including an industrial, domestic fleet and an extensive distant water fleet that operates in foreign and international waters. Reform of China’s fisheries sector reportedly led to a 31 per cent decline in commercial fishing vessel numbers between 2002 and 2014 and improved marine protection and fisheries restoration.3 Previous research has identified China’s fishing sector as high-risk for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,4 labour exploitation and modern slavery.5
China has some elements of a fisheries governance system, yet it has demonstrated little progress towards restoring fish stocks. Of the total catch in Chinese national waters, most (68 per cent) comes from unassessed stocks, and its status remains unknown. Additionally, 37 of the 58 stocks assessed (64 per cent) of fish stocks are considered to be overfished. While China has developed some elements of a fisheries governance system, major gaps remain in the lack of science-based management and limited implementation and enforcement of fisheries rules and regulations. Urgent action is needed to expand management and improve stock sustainability to protect China’s fisheries for the future.
Progress towards SDG target 14.4
China performs in the bottom one-third of countries globally in terms of progress towards achieving SDG target 14.4 and demonstrates limited progress towards ensuring all fish stocks within its waters are sustainably managed.
China’s Progress score is hindered by the large proportion of catch (68 per cent) in its waters that comes from unassessed stocks, which lack official published assessments or do not have quantitative data available to estimate stock health.
Additionally, of the 58 fish stocks assessed, only 21 stocks (36 per cent) are estimated to be at sustainable levels of abundance. These stocks account for less than 10 per cent of the catch in China’s national waters. The majority of China’s catch is either from overfished stocks (23 per cent of catch) or from stocks that are unassessed (68 percent of catch).
Globally and regionally, China performs in the mid-range of countries for its governance capacity. China has some elements of a fisheries governance system that, where implemented, promotes sustainable fishing. However, major gaps remain in terms of a lack of high-quality fisheries information to inform science-based management, limited action to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and lack of enforcement of fleet registration and licencing.
China has a national fisheries policy with clearly stated environmental, economic and livelihood objectives. However, China has not committed to several international agreements for fisheries management and the protection of worker rights and safety in fisheries. This includes the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, the 2009 FAO Agreement on Port State Measures, the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188) and the 2012 IMO Cape Town Agreement. Furthermore, China is yet to adopt a National Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing.
There is evidence that China has financial and professional capacity to manage fisheries resources. For example, key fisheries such as the largehead hairtail (Trichiurus lepturus) are managed using science-based catch and/or effort limits. Encouragingly, management decisions in this fishery are evidence-based and made using harvest control rules – pre-determined rules that guide management action, based on the state of fisheries resources. However, there is evidence that fisheries data– such as self-reported catch and fishing effort– is not regularly collected, and where collected, is not independently verified. Furthermore, these science-based catch and/or effort limits are yet to be used across all fisheries.
China performs in the bottom one-third of Asian countries in terms of controlling access to its fisheries resources. While China uses vessel registration and licencing systems to monitor fishing in its waters, authorities face considerable challenges enforcing these requirements. For example, known instances of illegal and unregulated vessels that lack a name, ship certificate and registered port6,7 undermine China’s ability to monitor the size of its fishing fleet.8,9
China allows for foreign fishing in national waters via bilateral- and/or multi-lateral agreements. For example, fishing agreements exist with Japan and South Korea, which share historical fishing grounds with China. Foreign-flagged vessels conducted the equivalent of approximately 190 observed fishing days in Chinese waters in 2019. Although this represents only a small proportion of fishing activity in China’s national waters, foreign fishing vessels must be continually monitored for compliance with fisheries rules and regulations.
Although China has a coastal fisheries management area that excludes large-scale fishing vessels, it underperforms in terms of protecting key habitats and ecosystems. This is primarily due to the designation of less than one per cent of its waters as marine protected areas. The ‘ecological red-line’ policy, initiated in 2011, may facilitate the expansion of spatial management of fisheries in the future.10
High levels of fishing subsidies further complicate China’s efforts to ensure fishing in its waters is sustainable. Over 90 per cent – estimated at US$5.6 billion in 2018 – of China’s fisheries subsidies including reduced fuel prices and tax exemptions are linked to potentially harmful programs that promote overcapacity. While these subsidies encourage industry development, they are also linked to overfishing, particularly in the industrial sector.11 Since 2016, efforts to cut harmful subsidies have progressed,12 including within distant water fleets and illegally operating vessels.
Despite China’s strongly centralised government system, fisheries management is largely devolved to local or provincial levels, providing stakeholders with opportunities to participate in decision-making. However, some stakeholder groups – notably civil society organisations and non-government organisations – remain absent or under-represented. Additionally, there may be limited stakeholder capacity to effectively engage due to a lack of transparency around decision-making, for example through not publishing management meeting minutes.
|Progress score||11.4 out of 100|
|Total reconstructed catch in 2018||9.0 million tonnes|
|Total reconstructed catch (1990 to 2018)||277.0 million tonnes|
|Catch from sustainable stocks (1990 to 2018)||8%|
|Catch from overfished stocks (1990 to 2018)||23%|
|Catch from unassessed stocks (1990 to 2018)||68%|
|Governance capacity||Medium: Level 6 of 12|
Methods and data sources
We consider Macao Special Administrative Region as part of China for the purpose of the Global Fishing Index assessment. China is also considered part of the Central, Southern, Eastern and South-East Asian region for comparative purposes. Note, Taiwan, Province of China, was assessed separately due to independent reporting of fisheries catch to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Refer to the Technical Methods for a detailed explanation of the methods used by the Minderoo Foundation to produce the 2021 Global Fishing Index. The Technical Methods should be read in conjunction with the Global Fishing Index Key Insights report, Governance Conceptual Framework and Indicator Codebook.
China’s Progress score was informed by 58 assessed fish stocks. Fifteen stocks had recent published official stock assessments, including seven assessments from regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). The remaining 43 stocks were assessed using publicly available data and established data limited methods (CMSY++ or the Bayesian Schaefer Model).13,14 These assessments were conducted during a data-limited stock assessment workshop held in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China from June 18-20, 2019. Catch and stock sustainability estimates were reviewed by one local fisheries expert, prior to finalisation.
China’s governance assessment was informed by interviews with four local fisheries experts and the publicly available literature. Consulted references are listed in the bibliography below. Our assessment measures country-level fisheries governance, with eight indicators referring specifically to a country’s most valuable fishery, as identified by respondents. The most valuable fishery identified for China was the largehead hairtail, Trichiurus lepturus.
The following sources informed China’s governance assessment:
Bureau of Fisheries (2019). Notice of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs on Printing and Distributing the "Special Law Enforcement Action Plan for" China's Fishery Swords 2019. http://www.moa.gov.cn/gk/tzgg_1/tz/201903/t20190308_6173480.htm [24 January 2020]
Cao, L., Chen, Y., Dong, S., Hanson, A., Huang, B., Leadbitter, D., Little, D.C., Pikitch, E.K., Qiu, Y., Sadovy de Mitcheson, Y., Sumailal, U.R., Williamsm, M., Xuen, G., Yeo, Y., Zhangp, W., Zhouq, Y., Zhuangr, P. and Naylorb, R.L. (2017). Opportunity for marine fisheries reform in China, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, (3), pp. 435-442, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1616583114 [24 January 2020]
Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China (1986). Fisheries Law of the People's Republic of China. http://www.gov.cn/ziliao/flfg/2005-08/05/content_20812.htm [24 January 2020]
Chasis, S. (2017). China's New Direction in Domestic Fisheries Management. https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sarah-chasis/chinas-new-direction-domestic-fisheries-management [24 January 2020]
China Agriculture Press (2018). China Fishery Statistical Yearbook. 2018. China Agriculture Press, China Agriculture Press. https://www.purpleculture.net/china-fishery-statistical-yearbook-2018-p-28046/ [24 January 2020]
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2001). Information on Fisheries Management in the People's Republic of China. http://www.fao.org/fi/oldsite/FCP/en/CHN/body.htm [24 January 2020]
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2017). Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profiles: China. Part I Overview and Main Indicators (updated December 2017) and Part II Narrative (updated 2017). http://www.fao.org/fishery/facp/CHN/en [24 January 2020]
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2020). Species Fact Sheets – Trichiurus lepturus (Linnaeus, 1758). http://www.fao.org/fishery/species/2468/en [24 January 2020]
Government of the People's Republic of China (2017). Notice of the Ministry of Agriculture on Further Strengthening the Control of Domestic Fishing Vessels and Implementing the Total Management of Marine Fishery Resources. http://www.waizi.org.cn/law/18171.html [24 January 2020]
He, C., Linlin, Z., Shelley, C., Geoffrey, M., Jason, P. and Huihui, Z. (2011). Greening China's Fish and Fish Products Market Supply Chains, in: Philander, S.G. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Global Warming and Climate Change, SAGE Publications,, Inc., California, United States, pp. 1-151. [24 January 2020]
Huang, S. and He, Y. (2019). Management of China's capture fisheries: Review and prospect, Aquaculture and Fisheries 4, (5), pp. 173-182, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aaf.2019.05.004 [24 January 2020]
Kui, Z., Jun, Z., Youwei, X., Mingshuai, S., Zuozhi, C. and Meng, Y. (2018). Application of a catch-based method for stock assessment of three important fisheries in the East China Sea, Acta Oceanologica Sinica 37, (2), pp. 102-109, https://doi.org/10.1007/s13131-018-1173-9 [24 January 2020]
Menasveta, D. (2000). The Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Secruity in Southeast Asia. http://www.fao.org/3/x6956e/x6956e07.htm [24 January 2020]
Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of the People's Republic of China (2020). Regulations on the Administration of Fishery Fishing Permits. http://www.gd.gov.cn/zwgk/zcfgk/content/post_2520821.html [24 January 2020]
National Bureau of Statistics of China (2012). National Bureau of Statistics of China >> Annual Data. http://www.stats.gov.cn/english/Statisticaldata/AnnualData/ [24 January 2020]
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2018). Recipients of Official Development Assistance data. https://public.tableau.com/views/OECDDACAidataglancebyrecipient_new/Recipients?:embed=y&:display_count=yes&:showTabs=y&:toolbar=no?&:showVizHome=no [24 January 2020]
Shandong Ocean and Fishery Bureau (2018). Annual Accounts of Shandong Ocean and Fishery Bureau for 2018. http://hyj.shandong.gov.cn/zwgk/ghcw/201908/P020190823337997492104.pdf [24 January 2020]
Sun, P., Liang, Z.L., Yu, Y., Tang, Y.L., Zhao, F.F. and Huang, L.Y. (2015). Trawl selectivity-induced evolution effects on age structure and size-at-age of largehead hairtail (Trichiurus lepturus) Linnaeus, 1758 in the East China Sea, China, Journal of Applied Ichthyology 31, (4), pp. 657-664, https://doi.org/10.1111/jai.12774. [24 January 2020]
Xiao, Y., Ren, G., Song, N., Li, J. and Gao, T. (2014). Genetic diversity and population structure of largehead hairtail, Trichiurus japonicus, based on mtDNA control region, Mitochondrial DNA 25, (6), pp. 473-481, https://doi.org/10.3109/19401736.2013.809427 [24 January 2020]
Yimin, Y. and Andrew, A.R. (1991). A study of the dynamics and management of the hairtail fishery, Trichiurus haumela, in the East China Sea, Aquatic Living Resources 4, (2), pp. 65-75, https://doi.org/10.1051/alr:1991007 [24 January 2020]
Yun-long, C., Xiu-juan, S., Fang-qun, D. and Xian-shin, J. (2013). Relative stock density and distribution of hairtail Trichiurus lepturus and its spawning stock structure in coastal waters of the East China Sea, p. 13, http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTOTAL-HYSC201304002.htm [24 January 2020]
Yuzheng Fishing Port Supervision Administration Bureau (2005). Notice of Yuzheng Fishing Port Supervision and Administration Bureau on Printing and Distributing the Measures for the Application, Use and Custody of Fishery Fishing Permits and Power Certificates. https://law.lawtime.cn/d360076365170.html [24 January 2020]
Zhijie, G., Yingliang, X., Xiangguo, Z., Yong, W., Daobo, Z. and Sugiyama, S. (2008). Review of Fishery Information and Data Collection Systems in China, European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium, pp. 1-102. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2009_2014/documents/pech/dv/chi/china.pdf [24 January 2020]
Zhoushan Ocean Fishery Bureau (2019). Annual Accounts of Zhoushan Ocean and Fishery Bureau for 2018. http://zsoaf.zhoushan.gov.cn/art/2019/9/25/art_1563863_38384942.html [24 January 2020]