Proceedings of the Third World Fisheries Congress: Feeding the World with Fish in the Next Millenium—The Balance between Production and Environment

Measurement of Fishing Capacity in Chinese Fisheries

Yingqi Zhou, Xinjun Chen, Zhang Xiang Guo


China has a long fishing history. Various fishing methods are used in coastal waters, including trawling, purse seining, set netting, long-lining, and gill netting. Furthermore, in trawling, large-midwater, pair, outrigger-prawn, and beam methods are used. The economic structure of Chinese fisheries is complex; for instance, the fishing enterprise comprises national and collective fishery companies as well as joint-venture companies and private fishing units owned by individual fishers. Types and sizes of vessels and fishing gears vary. The many fishing methods, numerous producers, and the collapse of marine resources have created difficulties for the measurement, quantification, and control of fishing capacity in Chinese coastal waters.

Since the late 1970s, supplies of some major economic species (silvery hair tail Trichiurus lepturus lepturus Linnaeus, large yellow croaker Pseudosciaena crocea Richardson, little yellow croaker Pseudosciaena polyactis Bleeker, and cuttlefish Sepia spp.) have declined or collapsed in Chinese coastal waters. Species with low value or that occupy a low position on the food chain have taken a higher proportion of the total output. It is urgently necessary to control and reduce the number of fishing vessels and fishing capacity; research on controlling fishing capacity appears to be necessary.

In China, three statistical indexes are used to indicate fishing capacity as physical capacity: number of fishing vessels, gross weight of fishing vessels, and engine power. These indexes represent the Chinese coastal fishery to a certain extent and have played a role in fishery management. In addition, number of fishing vessels and engine power are regarded as major control indexes for fishing capacity. For example, the Chinese government implemented a policy of controlling and limiting the amount of engine power in 1987, and 10 years later it started a “double control” program under which both total number of fishing vessels and amount of engine power are controlled. Furthermore, in early 1999, the Chinese government decided not to increase—even to reduce—total number of fishing vessels and engine power in coastal waters.

Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the number of fishing vessels and total engine power in Chinese coastal waters from 1985 to 1997.

A new concept in fishery management, fishing capacity has not had a standard definition and appropriate measuring method until now. Holland and Sutinen (1998) consider that fishing capacity is usually thought of in terms of the ability to produce fishing effort per period. A fisheries report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) proposes “the ability of stock of inputs (capital) to produce output (measured as either effort or catch). Fishing capacity is the ability of a vessel or a fleet of vessels to catch fish” (FAO 1998). However, the concept originates in traditional industrial economic theory, with a view to the reasonable use of fishing resources while considering ecological, economic, and social aspects and making various inputs (including fishery resources) attain the most rational, best combination.

The concept of fishing capacity is different from that of fishing effort. Whereas fishing capacity could be measured as physical capacity and production capacity, fishing effort is measured as the natural characteristics of fishing vessels (such as gross weight and engine power) or fishing operations (e.g., number of fishing days or hauls). However, fishing capacity should be considered a comprehensive index, presenting or indicating all factors that affect the catches or fishing efforts; fishing capacity is a dynamic concept that varies with fishing gear, method, skill, and area as well as fishery management.

The main factors affecting fishing capacity are fishing time, fishing technology and its equipment, biomass that relate to fish resources, and skill of the crew.