Having the world’s largest fishing fleet while facing depleting fishery resources in its inshore waters, China’s marine catch sector has been experiencing two major structural adjustments: a shift from inshore to offshore fishing and expanding Distant Water Fishing (DWF). The shift from inshore to offshore fishing is leading to growing illegal fishing operations by Chinese fishermen in neighboring countries’ EEZs and disputed waters, particularly in the East China Sea and South China Sea. These operations become triggers for maritime tensions and clashes in the region. Meanwhile, the rapid expansion of China’s distant water fishing fleet also has notable implications for global maritime security. China’s growing distant water fishing fleet is also one of the factors leading to China’s efforts to build a blue water navy to safeguard China’s maritime interests. However, it might also contribute to overfishing and illegal fishing which threatens the sustainability of the global fishing sector.
The root causes of fishing disputes between China and other countries are China’s worsening supply and demand imbalances for aquatic products, and overcapacity of its marine catch sector. Thus, in order to manage fisheries disputes and prevent fishing disputes from escalating into regional and global diplomatic and security conflicts, efforts at national, regional and global levels are needed. At the national level, China needs to step up efforts to address the demand and supply imbalances and at the regional and global level, cooperation and coordination among countries are essential to prevent fishing disputes from escalating. If the structural shifts of China’s fishing industry could be well managed, the fishing sector could be an ideal field for cooperation to achieve maritime safety and security at both regional and global levels.
Zhang Hongzhou is a Senior Analyst with the China Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
He previously worked as a Research Analyst with the Maritime Security Programme at RSIS. He received his Master’s degree in International Political Economy from RSIS and Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Studies from NTU. His main research interests include China’s agricultural development, rural poverty, agricultural trade, food security, fishery development and maritime security. He has contributed papers on maritime security and food security to peer-reviewed journal and edited volumes. He has written several commentaries on China and Asia Food Security.