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

Social Factors Affecting the Sustainable Development of Fisheries in China

Jianye Tang, Shuolin Huang


The concept of sustainable development has resulted from perceived inadequacies of earlier models of economic growth and development that did not provide a broad enough base on which to make balanced judgments about the costs and benefits of various policies. They also tended to focus on short-term gains at the expense of long-term aspirations. Sustainable development is simply “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (FAO 1999). In this sense, development relates to quality of life and should not be confused with economic growth, although the two are closely linked within modern world systems. Other definitions and rules for sustainable development elaborate on the above definition in various ways (FAO 1999):

“The management and conservation of the natural resource base, and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment of continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development conserves (land), water, plants and (animal) genetic resources, is environmentally nondegrading, technologically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.”

“Using, conserving, and enhancing the community resources so that ecological processes, on which life depend, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased.”

All these definitions recognize that the sustainability of activities that provide for human well-being depends on the maintenance of environmental functions that themselves, directly and indirectly, contribute to human welfare. They refer to the capacity of natural processes and their components to provide goods and services that satisfy human needs.

Fishing is an important activity throughout the world. It produces more than 100 million tons of fish and fishery products each year and contributes to human welfare by providing a livelihood for about 200 million people. More than a billion people, particularly in the poor countries of the world, depend on fishery products for animal protein. Fishing also contributes to human welfare by fulfilling cultural needs and by providing other social benefits, such as recreation.

In the past 20 years, the Chinese fishery industry has experienced rapid progress and made great achievements that have attracted worldwide attention. Comprehensive production capability in the fishery sector has visibly improved. Fishery production has increased by a large margin; in fact, fishery production in the People’s Republic of China was ranked first in the world for 10 consecutive years. The per capita supply of fish and fishery products has increased each year and was 32.7 kg in 1999, surpassing the world average. Meanwhile, China’s share in agricultural output value has increased annually (10.6% in 1997). China’s fishery has developed into a relatively complete industrial system.

With the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea coming into force and the 200–nautical mile economic exclusive zone (EEZ) regime being implemented worldwide, competition in marine fisheries resources has intensified. At present, along with the fishery agreement between China and Japan coming into force and the assignment of the fishery agreement between China and the Republic of South Korea, about 24,000 Chinese fishers will be expelled from their traditional fishing grounds. Some other countries have strengthened the scramble for resources on the high seas, and the conditions for fishing entry to other countries are becoming more strict. All these factors limit the development of the distance-water fishery. In China, the marine fishery industry has to confront this current serious situation, and fishers face the risk of unemployment.