Overfishing Futility, PRC/Scarborough Shoal Edition

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/24/2012 09:10:00 AM
To be sure, what China and the Southeast Asian nations contesting various islands and reefs in the South China Sea are most interested in are the gas reserves lying beneath. That said, fishing inspires a strong, evocative reaction among nationals of the countries concerned. After all, the most recent Sino-Philippine spat started with the Philippines halting Chinese vessels allegedly carrying endangered species.

Strangely enough, we now find in our favourite official publication China Daily tacit admission that the waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal or what China calls Huangyan Island and the Philippines the Panatag Shoal are becoming increasingly unviable destinations for Chinese fishers. Given that they have to journey quite far from mainland China (another interesting point to make as well), it behooves them that yields are declining rapidly as stocks diminish:
Back in [the fishing town of] Tanmen, the daily reality for the local fishing community appears far more complex than the international headlines would suggest. The rapidly depleting stocks around Hainan's shores, allied to improvements in fishing equipment, are increasingly driving fishing boats into deeper waters, according to a recent report in the official Hainan Daily newspaper. While this has not had a direct impact on the fishermen in Tanmen, long revered for their knowledge of the waters of the South China Sea, some locals say the incentive to undertake an average of three voyages, each lasting one month, to Huangyan each year are now weaker than ever before.

The government of Qionghai, Tanmen's superior city, has long allocated subsidies for every local fishing trip to the South China Sea. It also reimburses a certain amount of the diesel cost for each vessel. But as diesel prices continue to soar, veteran fishermen say the subsidies barely cover their costs. "There was money to be made when there was no subsidy. But now, the costs are much higher, fish stocks are lower, and people always come after us when we try to fish," said Chen Yiping.

Wu, the scholar, said the most pressing issues at hand for the local government are to raise subsidies for the fishermen and to make greater efforts to ensure their safety when working in the waters around the island. 
I am not exactly an impartial observer in this matter, but this story does reveal a couple of things about China's fishy situation. These fishing expeditions to distant shoals (not shores, mind you) are already heavily subsidized per journey and for fuel. While natural gas bonanzas may await, the economic rationale for the time-honoured activity fishing is simply not there anymore. State-sponsored fishing expeditions = fish stock depletion in the waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal = overfishing. That even fatter subsidies are the only way seen to stabilize the situation speaks volumes, methinks.

Nuff said.