Tackling issues behind fishing disputes

By Liu Feng Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/26 18:58:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Over the years, fishing disputes between China and its neighboring countries have occurred from time to time. A great number of maritime friction due to fishing has not only caused heavy losses for fishermen's lives and property, but sometimes even escalated into diplomatic and security conflicts.

Frequent fishing disputes not only use massive diplomatic resources and energy from China, but inevitably harm bilateral relations with neighbors. These disputes appear to be related to a lack of regulations, but deep down are caused by a series of conflicting interests.

For starters, China's fishermen have battled with each other to exploit the limited fishing resources in costal waters. China has nearly 1 million fishing vessels and as many as 30 million people involved in the fishing industry, most of whom are engaged in marine fisheries.

The inshore fishing resources in China have seen a sharp decline due to fishermen's intensive fishing methods and the serious impact on the environment from worsening environmental pollution in coastal waters and increasing land reclamation activities. Many fishing grounds have disappeared. As a result, Chinese fishermen have to carry out offshore fishing or even cross-border fishing.

Jurisdiction disputes can be easily set off with neighbors, because China faces a lot of overlapping maritime claims in its surrounding seas. The most effective way to solve fishing disputes is to complete delimitation of sea boundaries as soon as possible. But since China is a continental marine state, most of the sea under its jurisdiction is semi-enclosed with many overlapping claims from neighboring countries, therefore maritime delimitation can not be achieved at once.

The uncertainty of maritime boundaries leads to a frequent occurrence of fishing disputes and brings some hidden troubles to cross-border fishing management. A case in point is the long-term fishing disputes between China and South Korea in the Yellow Sea.

Moreover, conflicts have arisen when neighboring countries strengthen maritime enforcement and Chinese fishermen need to fish across the border for survival. In a sense, fishing rights involve fishermen's right to survival and development. Most areas of the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea have been fishing grounds for Chinese fishermen since ancient times and hence relate to China's claim of historical rights.

Meanwhile, the neighboring countries have strengthened their claims of maritime jurisdiction and tried to extend their boundaries by expanding their maritime law enforcement. During this process, problems of cross-border enforcement, excessive enforcement and use of force take place frequently, which intensifies fishing disputes and conflicts at sea.

In conclusion, it requires systematic work for China to address overseas fishing disputes in the surrounding sea areas. It is necessary to restore the coastal fisheries ecosystems and intensify the protection of the coastal environment to strengthen the fisheries resources recuperation, and to encourage fishermen to work in other industries.

In addition, China needs to accelerate the transformation and upgrading of its marine fisheries, and develop fish farming and recreational fisheries.

Besides, efforts are needed to speed up the delimitation of surrounding sea areas and promote the negotiation and subsequent consultations of relevant fishing agreements to make proper arrangements for managing fishery disputes and maritime conflicts in the long run.

The author is a visiting professor of South China Sea Institute, Xiamen University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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